Susan Hayward in Deadline at Dawn (1946)
If you like your movies to make sense and have a satisfying conclusion, you might think that, in his intro, Eddie Muller is telling you that you are not going to like the 1946 film noir “Deadline at Dawn.” He says that writer Cornell Woolrich’s stories didn’t always make sense and some had a tendency to start out compelling and end up confounding.
“But I ask,” Muller says, “Do your nightmares make sense?” That a good point and Muller certainly is a veritable treasure house of fascinating tidbits on the films he presents, giving us the skinny on Woolrich, who wrote this story under the pseudonym William Irish, and Clifford Odets, who wrote the screenplay. He also sheds light on why director William Cameron Menzies went uncredited, and why director Harold Clurman didn’t like to talk about the film.
Lola Lane played Edna Bartelli, a hard-boiled dame who, with her brother, is involved in various rackets, including blackmail. Edna gets murdered very early in the film so we don’t see a lot of her but the film is mainly about finding out who is responsible for her early departure. Edna and her brother got a sailor drunk and gypped him out of his money. Then she lured him up to her apartment to fix her radio.
Bill Williams played Alex Winkler, the sailor. He is so naive, “just a baby,” as Susan Hayward’s character puts it, that you can see why Edna picked him as a likely mark. He really did fix Edna’s radio but in a drunken blackout, Alex somehow took $1,400 out of Edna’s purse before he stumbled out of her place. We meet him, at a newstand, drinking coffee and trying to get his act together, when that money falls out of his pocket.
Susan Hayward played June Goff, an unhappy 23-year-old dance hall girl who is ashamed of her occupation. She reluctantly agrees to help Alex return the $1,400 and that’s when they find out that Edna’s been strangled. They only have until 6 a.m. to find out whodunit. That’s the dawn deadline because Alex has to get a bus back to the naval base at Norfolk at that time.
Paul Lukas play Gus Hoffman, a taxi cab driver. He gets involved in the hunt for Edna’s real killer and the three of them traipse all over New York City pursuing red herrings and strange characters. We just assumed that Gus regularly drives his cab in the wee hours, but the funny thing is that June was already tired before this big adventure began, yet she manages to stay up all night and everyone they go to see is wide awake, too. They all end up at the police station where Alex is about to get railroaded anyway, when the real killer is revealed.
Fascinating tidbits about the cast:
Lola Lane’s name was the inspiration for Superman’s girlfriend, Lois Lane. Lola had a role in 1937’s “Marked Woman,” starring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, which just got put on my “to watch” list.
Bill Williams had a long and happy marriage to Barbara Hale (of Della Street fame), that ended with his death in 1992. Barbara Hale never remarried. They were the parents of actor William Katt (“The Greatest American Hero”).
Susan Hayward was actually 29 the year “Deadline at Dawn” was released. As Eddie Muller mentioned in his intro, she had just given birth to her twin boys, Timothy and Gregory. Susan got top billing in this film although she had not yet been nominated for an Oscar.
Paul Lukas, on the other hand, had already won a Best Actor Oscar two years earlier for his performance in “Watch on the Rhine.” Bette Davis, in a supporting role, played his wife but she got top billing over Lukas. Lukas played Ursula Andress’ daddy in a 1963 Elvis Presley musical “Fun in Acapulco”