Given all the excellent components, Deadline at Dawn ought to be a lot better. It has a compelling plot–a naive sailor and erstwhile murder suspect (Bill Williams) has to solve the crime before he ships out, but he’s just met a city hardened girl (Susan Hayward) and crushing on her and she’s warming to him–and Clifford Odets’s screenplay doesn’t do it justice.
Odets uses pat, declarative statements for the most part, giving Hayward almost nothing to work with. Williams is better the less he has to do, probably because Odets and director Clurman spend the first half of the picture establishing he’s a dope.
The supporting cast is (mostly) fantastic. Paul Lukas’s cabbie gets involved in the amateur investigation, a helpless romantic out to help the couple. Then there are Joseph Calleia and Jerome Cowan, who both get roped into tagging along. Odets’s script handles Dawn‘s large, shifting group of characters quite well. It’s just a shame he can’t write better dialogue or keep up the pace.
While some of the supporting cast–especially the cops–are unimpressive, only Marvin Miller is bad.
As a director, Clurman owes a lot to his cinematographer, Nicholas Musuraca. Dawn always looks great, even when it’s a lousy action scene (there are two or three)–editor Roland Gross can’t cut them. Clurman has one bad composition for every two good ones. The city sets look fantastic.
After a strong open, Dawn gets tedious. Hayward, Calleia and Musuraca make it worth a look.
Directed by Harold Clurman; screenplay by Clifford Odets, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Roland Gross; music by Hanns Eisler; produced by Adrian Scott; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Bill Williams (Alex Winkley), Susan Hayward (June Goth), Paul Lukas (Gus Hoffman), Joseph Calleia (Val Bartelli), Osa Massen (Helen Robinson), Jerome Cowan (Lester Brady), Marvin Miller (Sleepy Parsons), Steven Geray (Gloved Man), Joe Sawyer (Babe Dooley), Constance Worth (Mrs. Raymond) and Lola Lane (Edna Bartelli).