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Looking back at Between Midnight and Dawn, a 1950 crime drama of radio patrolmen and gangsters on the streets of Los Angeles, we would likely classify it as film noir. But that term was coined by French film critics in the late 1950s as they looked back at the dark strain of American crime pictures in the past decade. In Hollywood's mind, this was a classic cop picture, a policier about partners on the beat who put their lives on the line every day.
Mark Stevens, the tough-guy leading man of The Dark Corner (1946) and The Street with No Name (1948), takes top billing as Rocky Barnes, the younger member of the partnership (he's even called "Junior" a couple of times by his older partner) and the easy-going optimist of the pair. Stalwart character actor (and haunted leading man of the 1950 film noir classic D.O.A.) Edmond O'Brien is the more serious, and more cynical of the two. He plays Dan Purvis, a veteran patrolman who has seen so much crime and corruption that he has given up on redemption for any of their suspects, even the teenagers they encounter in the opening scene. Still, even with scar tissue on his heart, he is steadfast in his loyalty to Rocky, his partner and best friend since they served together in the war; Dan even serves as a smiling wingman when Rocky romances Kate (Gale Storm), the pretty young secretary to their lieutenant and daughter of a police hero killed in the line of duty.
Between Midnight and Dawn opens with a panoramic view of Los Angeles by night and the documentary-style narration popular at the time, sets up the film as a realistic portrait of the unsung heroism of the police radio patrol, the first responders of any police call. The title of the film refers to the police night shift, which is where much of the film takes place. Number one on Officer Dan Purvis' most wanted list is Ritchie Garris (Donald Buka), a local hoodlum risen to the level of L.A. racketeer, and he makes it his mission to keep the pressure on him. With his smooth, young-looking face, feral eyes and street thug personality under high-class clothes, Buka makes for a memorable villain.
Gordon Douglas, a versatile director whose career spans from Our Gang comedy shorts to westerns, adventures and a number of Frank Sinatra pictures (including Tony Rome  and The Detective ), injects a tough attitude into the routine script, and gives the film a jolt of authenticity with plenty of location shooting, including a dynamic chase through busy Los Angeles downtown streets. Where most Hollywood films of the day make do with standard rear projection for scenes in moving cars, most of the patrol car scenes in Between Midnight and Dawn are shot on the streets, with a camera mounted on the car or placed in the back seat looking out at the real world passing by. And while Douglas uses classic noir chiaroscuro lighting of shadows and slashes of illumination in studio-set scenes, as in a shoot-out in a garage early in the film, his location footage is defined by hard, single-source lighting, which gives the scenes a down-and-dirty immediacy. They make these scenes stand out from the more conventional love story and buddy movie clichs of the genre.
While Between Midnight and Dawn doesn't offer any surprises to its story of cops, crooks and vengeance, it's a sturdy crime picture with a solid performance grounding the story and a hard, gritty attitude when it comes to life on the beat.
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: Gordon Douglas
Screenplay: Eugene Ling (screenplay); Gerald Drayson Adams, Leo Katcher (story)
Cinematography: George Diskant
Art Direction: George Brooks
Music: George Duning
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Cast: Mark Stevens (Officer Rocky Barnes), Edmond O'Brien (Officer Dan Purvis), Gale Storm (Katharine 'Kate' Mallory), Donald Buka (Ritchie Garris), Gale Robbins (Terry Romaine), Anthony Ross (Lt. Masterson), Roland Winters (Leo Cusick), Tito Vuolo (Romano), Grazia Narciso (Mrs. Romano), Madge Blake (Mrs. Mallory).
by Sean Axmaker