Friday, November 27, 2015

Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)

*** out of 5

"You listen to me, Garris- you stick this in the back of your filthy brain and keep it there! We're gonna keep minding your business 'til you and your gorillas are tucked away in cages where you belong!"

This film plays out mostly as a Buddy Cop story spiced with grim noir action. The story follows two different threads, and the ways they intersect:  Mark Stevens and Edmond O'Brien play police partners and ex GI pals working together to  bring down a local crime boss, played by Donald Buka.
In their off hours, they team up to work their way into the affections of Gale Storm, who plays the girl on the radio dispatch.  They have a bet going as to whether her pretty voice matches her appearance, and when it turns out that it does, they convince her to go out on the town with them, which she does, but only once.  She has reservations about getting involved with a policeman, after seeing how the loss of her police officer father has affected her mother, who is played with a great blend of deep emotion and a mischievous side that works to see that her daughter gives the boys a fair chance.

Meanwhile. when the hunt for evidence that can convict Donald Buka's gangster character Ritchie Garris is successful, Stevens and O'Brien are the ones who get to haul him in.  All seems well, until he escapes, and turns out to be just crazy enough that, instead of lamming his way to safety, he goes on a hunt of his own to kill the guys who put him away.

And that's when things switch from cop comedy to genuinely dark noir.  When Buka manages shoot Stevens's character, O'Brien in turn becomes vengeful and even malicious in his attempts to find Buka, even at the cost of his own honor as an officer of the law if necessary.  After witnessing one particularly vicious assault, Gale Storm reproaching him mournfully with a speech that seems remarkably relevant today as it was to the story here. "A  brutal policeman is a terrible thing. He has too much power; too many chances of taking his vicousness out on helpless people."

However, the most shocking moment comes near the climax, when Garris, pinned down in an apartment building, uses a child as a hostage to bargain for his escape, dangling her from a high window where he gets cornered, and shouting at the police below to back off or he'll drop her.

At the start it feels a bit like two different movies playing simultaneously, but they eventually mesh and merge into one pretty good final product, with a lot of great performances and a satisfying resolution that ties everything up in a dramatic and compelling way. Especially interesting is the character arc given to Gale Robbins, who plays a singer and sometime moll to Buka's character, who puts up with the racketeering, but finds she just can't stomach the brute after she sees just how cruel and selfish he really is.

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