The Horn Blows at Midnight

The Horn Blows at Midnight: written by Sam Hellman, James V. Kern, and Aubrey Wisberg; directed by Raoul Walsh; starring Jack Benny (Athanael), Alexis Smith (Elizabeth), Dolores Moran (Fran), Allyn Joslyn (Osidro), Reginald Gardner (Archie Dexter), Guy Kibbee (The Chief), John Alexander (Doremus), and Ethel Griffies (Lady Stover) (1945): I don’t say this often, but someone should remake this movie. An angel sent to Earth to blow the Doomsday horn at exactly midnight instead gets into a variety of shenanigans involving gangsters, hotel detectives, suicidal cigarette girls, large gangs of violent children, giant dill pickles, giant coffee cups, and fallen angels.

Jack Benny made fun of this movie — which sorta bombed — for decades thereafter on his radio show. But it isn’t half-bad. I don’t like the fantasy-negating frame story (it’s all a dream), though even that supplies some laugh, including the inadvertant laugh at an advertising campaign for a coffee (Paradise Coffee!) that helps you sleep.

Either war-time shortages had replaced all the coffee in coffee with chicory (this was 1945), or the people of 1945 had an odd idea of how coffee worked. Well, or they smoked so many cigarettes that coffee actually did work as a sedative. Who knows?

The main body of the story presents some surprisingly deft visual effects work, some impressive sets, some funny comic setpieces, and lots of fish-out-of-water comedy. Benny plays the angel Athaniel as an innocent — indeed, a couple of scenes seem to anticipate Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The supporting cast is strong and fairly funny, and the whole thing is only 78 minutes long. Theologically speaking, the presentation of Heaven’s bureaucracy is funny but underlyingly sinister. The Coen Brothers could have a field day with this stuff. Recommended.

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