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Two O'Clock Courage

Two O'Clock Courage(1945)

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teaser Two O'Clock Courage (1945)

Director Anthony Mann's first film for RKO, Two O'Clock Courage (1945), is a lesser footnote in this great American director's career, but well worth a look. He made this film and the musical Sing Your Way Home (1945) briefly at RKO before returning to more familiar ground at Republic Studios. The director would soon go on to make Strange Impersonation (1946), a low budget gem at Republic.

Mann was handed the script of Two O'Clock Courage from RKO's writers after leaving MGM, and the screenplay was an undistinguished hybrid: half marital comedy and half Film Noir; it lacked the zip of other B efforts spilling out from the studio at the time. Critics such as Bosley Crowther of The New York Times were quite dismissive, calling it "second rate cinematic fun."

The story is certainly a mixed bag. The film begins with a man stumbling through a foggy dockside with his head split-open, and ends with a priggish boarding house superintendent turned away at the door by a marriage certificate and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign unknowingly placed on her receding backside.

Tom Conway spends a great deal of time looking convincingly like "The Falcon," and Ann Rutherford, mostly MIA in the film's second half, is stuck with dialogue running from poor wisecracks to jealous fits, but she's able to still find a vein of charm. Jean Brooks nearly steals the movie with only a few scenes, exuding psychotic guilt. Conway, whose real name is Robert Conroy Sanders, bares such a frightening resemblance to his brother that surely some 1945 audience members must have blurted "Oh look, it's the guy from The Picture of Dorian Gray!" Jane Greer (here billed as Bettejane Greer) flashes on the screen like a comet - a radiant, convincing "other woman" that looms over all her scenes; she leaves a wake of sharp glass in every scene.

Of Mann the stylist, there are glimpses of greatness. Two O'Clock Courage was a journeyman's exercise, where he was clearly restrained from unleashing or developing any of the genuinely expressive powers quickly emerging with the director and which would fine fruition in films such as T-Men (1948), Raw Deal (1948), Desperate (1947), and The Tall Target (1951). The film contains tantalizing moments such as its disorienting opening tracking shot (Mann had opened with a similar sequence in his previous film, The Great Flamarion in 1945) and some better-than-average cross cutting in a key flashback sequence - but it's evident the director was just beginning to think about how gritty story elements might be expressively told.

Mann never dealt with scripted comedy; he simply didn't "get it" (see his atrocious Sing Your Way Home (1945)), and the comedy in Two O'Clock Courage crackles with the energy of a rubber tire. But it's fun watching this film nonetheless, and if you can get past some of the lame dialogue, there are pockets of real enjoyment here as you watch a director play with scenes, clearly flirting with the movie camera and trying to discover what possibilities it may hold.

Producer: Benjamin Stoloff
Director: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: Gelett Burgess (story), Robert Kent, Gordon Kahn
Cinematography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editing: Philip Martin
Art Direction: Lucius O. Croxton, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Tom Conway (The Man), Anne Rutherford (Patty Mitchell), Richard Lane (Haley), Lester Matthews (Mark Evans), Roland Drew (Steve Maitland), Emory Parnell (Inspector Bill Brenner).

by Richard Steiner

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