It took me a second to remember what the ominous theme in Count the Hours reminded me of—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Count the Hours seems like it was done on the cheap, something about the first half’s composition suggests Siegel had to be real careful with what he got in (or kept out of) the frame. But he still does a fantastic job (more on it later). The music, though… the music undoes important scenes every time Siegel uses it. Stock music would have done a far superior job. And the movie’s from 1953, so some of the familiar chords had been in use in science fiction movies for three years at least. It just sounds silly.
The other big problem–besides John Craven, who’s awful and in most of the scenes for the first twenty minutes–is the writing. Count the Hours is the small-town legal drama about the man defending the client only he knows is innocent against the town’s wraith. It’s like Boomerang!, only not good. The script has dumb locals who turn in to evil locals, who are then expected to be forgiven their maliciousness once the accused is proven innocent. The dialogue’s poor, but the plot twists are decent–with the exception of Teresa Wright, Count the Hours plays a bad lawyer television show. Macdonald Carey’s lawyer isn’t a very good one–I mean, he’s really terrible–not Carey… the lawyer. Carey gives a great performance (he’s undone a little by the resolution, but so’s a lot). Wright’s good, but it’s her standard performance. She’d be the special guest star if it were from the 1970s. Besides Carey–well, I guess Adele Mara is amusing… she’s not good, but her performance is a lot of fun–Jack Elam turns in the other really good performance.
But the movie’s real selling point is Siegel’s direction. He’s got some great moves–not just the fantastic courtroom montage sequence, which is awful expositional storytelling, but technically beautiful–and he keeps it going.
For a seventy-six minute movie, Count the Hours really does seem endless. I was trying to work in an “hours” joke, but I’m not interested enough. The culprit’s the script for the most part–while the mystery develops in an interesting way, nothing else does. I mean, if the real murderer had been the irradiated, mutated spaceman the music suggested… well, it’d be something. Instead, Count the Hours is a weird one. Not a lost gem, but still a technical success.
Except that terrible, terrible music. I kept looking around for paper plates on strings.
Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Doane R. Hoag and Karen DeWolf, based on a story by Hoag; director of photography, John Alton; edited by James Leicester; music by Louis Forbes; produced by Benedict Bogeaus; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Teresa Wright (Ellen Braden), Macdonald Carey (Doug Madison), Dolores Moran (Paula Mitchener), Adele Mara (Gracie Sager, Max Verne’s Girlfriend), Edgar Barrier (Dist. Atty. Jim Gillespie), John Craven (George Braden), Jack Elam (Max Verne) and Ralph Sanford (Alvin Taylor).