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Between Midnight and Dawn

Posted by martinteller on November 2, 2012

They’re all scared the first time they’re caught.  Another year, she’ll be packing a shiv, ready to stick it in someone’s gut if she has to.  Maybe your gut.

Prowl car #13 patrols the city streets in the wee hours of the night.  Its occupants are Officer Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) and Officer Dan “Pappy” Purvis (Edmond O’Brien), two war buddies.  Barnes is fresh-faced and idealistic, Purvis is hardened and cynical.  Barnes becomes smitten with Kate (Gale Storm), the radio dispatcher.  He tries to win her over, but she resists… her father was a cop killed in the line of duty, and she doesn’t want that kind of worry in her life.  Finally — with some prodding from her mother — she lets him woo her, but with Barnes and Purvis trying to nab a dangerous gangster (Donald Buka), will she regret it?

This movie has some sharp tonal shifts, starting as a gritty procedural, swerving into romcom and then taking a surprising third act development that steers it into some pretty dark territory.  Normally this kind of mishmash would come off as messy and unfocused, but director Gordon Douglas (also the pretty good Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and the somewhat lousy I Was a Communist for the FBI) manages to make it work.  It’s held together by a crackerjack script that pops with dialogue that’s both witty and tough.  There’s a lot of terrific lines here, delivered with just the right bite.

The film rests largely on O’Brien’s and Stevens’s shoulders, and they’re well up to the task.  The two have a natural banter together, their personalities distinct but not too severely boxed in by certain archetypes.  O’Brien is a favorite of mine, his sarcastic gruffness is one of the highlights.  Stevens is not quite as impressive here as in Cry Vengeance but his lightheartedness makes him a likable character without being too goofy.  Buka seems a bit too lightweight and babyfaced at first, but comes into his own with some real nastiness at the end.  Storm is merely passable, not bringing a lot to the table, but Gale Robbins is a bit more interesting as Buka’s moll.  Tony Barr is one of the hoods and he has a face made for noir, but sadly was always relegated to bit parts.

It’s not the type of movie that drips with noir atmosphere, but there are definitely some fine moments in the camerawork, with dramatic low angles and nice location shots.  Likewise, the George Duning score isn’t especially distinctive but it serves the film well, setting the tone without calling a lot of attention to itself.

It all adds up to a movie that isn’t amazing, but it works when it shouldn’t and it’s consistently entertaining.  Rating: Very Good (83)


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