'Two O'Clock Courage' Is Only a Quarter to Noir

Tom Conway, Ann Rutherford

This is a solid minor crime lark that tips its fedora to basic noir tropes.

Two O'Clock Courage

Director: Anthony Mann
Cast: Tom Conway, Ann Rutherford
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1945
USDVD release date: 2015-06-09

A man's silhouette walks unsteadily away from the camera, which follows slowly behind him as he approaches the signpost of an intersection at night. The shadowy man leans against the post because he's hurt, bleeding from a head wound. He's nearly struck by a cab, whose spunky little female driver jumps out to give him a tongue-lashing until she realizes he's injured and doesn't remember his name or anything else. "It's am-something," she says, and she'll spend the rest of the night helping him retrace his steps to find out if he's guilty of the murder that's just occurred near that location.

This description resembles the set-up of many noir films, especially those inspired by the works of Cornell Woolrich, such as Street of Chance (1942) and Deadline at Dawn (1946). However, Two O'Clock Courage is based on a story by Gelett Burgess, a very different type of author famous for children's books and nonsense verse like "The Purple Cow", and despite its initial noir trappings, this quick B picture turns out to be one of the many light-hearted throwaway mysteries common to the era.

The fact that Burgess wrote a 1934 mystery novel with an amnesia element unwittingly makes this humorist an influence on the whole amnesia subgenre of what would be called noir fiction. In fact, Benjamin Stoloff had directed a 1936 film version for RKO called Two in the Dark starring Walter Abel and Margot Grahame. The same Stoloff now produced this 1945 remake at the dawn of the film noir era, and it would be interesting to compare the two films.

Tom Conway, famous as George Sanders' younger brother who took over the Falcon series of mostly larkish crime movies, plays the hero who doesn't recall his name. Ann Rutherford overplays the sprightly woman cabbie bit, a type of character not uncommon in movies of the cultural moment when "the boys" were still coming back from overseas. They spend the plot running around and trading wisecracks in an increasingly unlikely investigation with a surprisingly accommodating homicide detective (Emory Parnell) and annoying comic-relief reporter (Richard Lane).

The suspects include two high-class dolls played by Jean Brooks, who'd been in several Falcon outings, and Jane Greer, billed as Bettejane Greer in her first credited film two years before her iconic femme fatale in 1947's Out of the Past. To noir fans, the promise of her presence is as exciting as the fact that this picture was directed by Anthony Mann, and that evocative opening shot almost looks as good as some of the visual ideas he later fabricated with photographer John Alton, but the cameraman here is Jack Mackenzie. Outside of that opening shot, the picture doesn't take real advantage of the fact that all the action occurs at night.

Just as the rest of the film's style will prove less exciting than we'd hope, so the screenplay by Robert E. Kent, with additional dialogue (probably sprucing up the alleged witticisms) by Gordon Kahn, turns out to be a routine whodunit. That's good enough for Warner Archive to release it on demand under its Film Noir banner, but noir fans should be warned that this entertaining time-passer isn't a lost classic of the genre. It's merely a solid minor crime lark of the good-natured school that tips its fedora in the direction of certain ideas and icons to be better developed in the more serious noirs. If you know what you're getting, you'll not be disappointed.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.