'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.






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.