Forgotten Films: The Horn Blows At Midnight (1945)
This is the 21st in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
This week’s film was a new one for me. As a kid I saw the old Jack Benny show on TV and enjoyed those. My folks had loved his radio programs in their youth. I did not see any of his films until much later in life. Generally I enjoyed them, particularly GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE, TO BE OR NOT TO BE (so much better and funnier than the Mel Brooks remake), and CHARLEY’S AUNT but I never quite got around to this one.
Here, in the final major film of his career, Benny plays a dual role as an unnamed trumpeted in the radio studio band and Athanael a trumpeter in the heavenly orchestra. Athanael has been chosen by the Director (Guy Kibbee) to blow the Armageddon trumpet and end all life on Earth. This is a great honor for him and might allow him a promotion among the angelic corps and some more time with Elizabeth (the always lovely Alexis Smith), his sweetheart. He is warned that the horn must be blown exactly at midnight. As he arrives on Earth he makes his way to the appointed spot but finds himself distracted by Fran (Dolores Moran). Fran has been working for thief Archie Dexter (Reginald Gardner who is always superb). Benny has disrupted a jewelry heist and Fran has received the blame. She is attempting suicide when Athanael is supposed to blow the horn. But the Director is going to give him one more chance.
If Athanael can blow the horn at midnight on the next night, the world will end and everything will be OK. Both Elizabeth and the Director come to Earth to see that nothing goes wrong. They are unaware that two fallen angels, Doremus (played by John Alexander) and Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) are working to prevent Athanael from his appointed task. It seems they like life on Earth. They have money, fine cigars, women, booze – all the comforts. If the world ends, they do not get to go to Heaven and they would prefer to not go to the other place.
There are some great bits in the film. The scene of the hanging pendulum of people off the top of the hotel is fun. Watching Osidro and Doremus get their hourly “shakes: (the only drawback to life on Earth) is entertaining. And the scene in the restaurant where Athanael tries out a variety of Earthly foods for which he has no money and must eventually lose the trumpet is classic.
This is not a spectacular film, just a pleasant fantasy, but it died at the box office. I guess a number of people did not want to see Jack Benny, one of their favorite stars destroy the planet. For whatever reason it marked the end of his film career. He made a few more cameo appearances, most notably in IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and then conquered the world of the little screen with THE JACK BENNY SHOW.
The film does feature some great character actors including Mike Mazurki, Margaret Dumont, and Franklin Pangborn who all have small but memorable parts.
The film was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1946 for Best Dramatic Presentation, losing to THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, itself another fine forgotten film.,
Give it a watch. It does show on TCM with some regularity though not as often as TO BE OR NOT TO BE but a diligent viewing of their schedule can reward you with this and other fine SF/F/H titles.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.