As part of TCM’s Noir Alley line-up, I recently saw this interesting little film noir.
The story concerns a U.S. Navy sailor Alex Winkley (played by Bill Williams) who wakes up post-bender with a big wad of moolah on him. Although his mind is a blank as to the previous evening, he recalls getting the dough from a woman he’d visited, the not-so-lovely Edna Bartelli (played briefly mostly lying down by Lola Lane).
So … being a really nice guy, and with help from dance hall girl June Gaffe (played awesomely by Susan Hayward), he tries to return the money. But, honey—it’s too late for that, because the woman has been offed whacked murdered
as dead as a doornail.
Alex is so hazy on the previous night’s details, he can’t be sure he didn’t kill her. Thus, June and Gus Hoffman, New York City’s most philosophical cabbie (played by Paul Lukas) spend all night with him trying to figure out whodunnit. And the deadline is dawn, because that’s when Alex has to ship out. So, it’s shape up and ship out for Alex. Before dawn. Which explains the movie’s title. Well, book and movie, because it was a book first.
Apparently, the stiff deceased was quite the blackmailer, because she kept compromising letters about various men’s affairs and made a nice chunk of change off blackmailing them. Complicating matters is the appearance of Edna’s brother Val (played by Joseph Calleia), your typical gangster type who’d like to fix Alex up as the fall guy.
The plot has some nice twists and turns, as befits the genre. I do have to take issue with Eddie Muller’s observation during his introduction that the story relies too much on coincidence. In my opinion, it’s exactly that randomness that underscores the existential nature of the film noir genre (or style, if you will). So much of our lives are determined by coincidence and luck (or lack thereof).
I also thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography. Specifically, the way it captured the feeling of a big city at night—a place jammed with people who hardly know each other in the dark urban setting of empty streets.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say it involves a plot twist that I never saw coming. And there is one thing I particularly liked about Hayward as June. She was anything but the typical film noir female. Instead of a femme fatale, June was a dance hall girl with a heart of gold.
I think this movie is an overlooked film noir delight. I highly recommend it for fans of the genre!