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  Horn Blows at Midnight, The Trumpet Trouble
Year: 1945
Director: Raoul Walsh
Stars: Jack Benny, Alexis Smith, Dolores Moran, Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardiner, Guy Kibbee, John Alexander, Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Robert Blake, Ethel Griffies, Paul Harvey, Mike Mazurki, Truman Bradley, Jack Norton
Genre: Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's time for the Paradise Coffee radio programme, but the last minute rehearsals could be going better when the third trumpet player (Jack Benny) keeps sounding notes out of tune. He is apologetic, but nursing a grudge that he's playing third trumpet at all, though once the show starts he becomes caught up in the announcer's narration telling the audience that this coffee is sure to make you go to sleep peacefully. But the trumpeter manages that without a cup, and soon is slumbering, dreaming of Heaven circa 1945-6...

If you've heard of The Horn Blows at Midnight, it would probably be because you were familiar with the comedy of its star, Jack Benny, for whom the movie's failure was a dependable running joke on both his hit radio show and his equally popular television show follow-up. Every so often there someone would remind Benny of what a flop this was to take him down a peg or two, and it always got a big laugh, but the results were that the source was denigrated as a mere punchline, and if anyone sought it out it would be due to simple curiosity about its supposed lack of quality. Naturally, of such material are cult movies made.

The truth of it was, this wasn't a complete turkey, it was just deeply silly. It contained a few decent laughs, but mostly it bore the marks of a project nobody had really thought through, coming at the end of the Second World War and having a plot which involved the ostensible hero trying to destroy the planet. What the trumpeter's dream concerns is an angel, Athanael (Benny), who is plucked out of the heavenly orchestra where he was playing trumpet, naturally, and offered the chance of a promotion if he can succeed in blowing his horn exactly at the stroke of midnight tonight on Earth, midnight New York time that is. Any sooner or later, and it's just not going to work.

Why do the divine beings want to destroy our world? We're all too wicked, apparently, and past saving, so the best thing to do is wipe us out, which seems a little harsh for a daft comedy, but then there was a lot about this which appeared misjudged, as if the script was a few drafts away from making sense. What you did get, and what probably saved this, were a host of forties Hollywood character actors which made it watchable, so every so often Margaret Dumont of the Marx Brothers movies would show up or Franklin Pangborn of the Preston Sturges favourites did a turn or serial heavy Mike Mazurki loomed into the frame or... you get the idea, these professionals could wring the laughs out of even a subpar screenplay.

Except the screenplay had some interesting notions, and by interesting I mean things that you wouldn't find many others trying. Fitting awkwardly into the strain of supernatural movies which arrived during the war years and after when the afterlife was on everyone's minds, The Horn Blows at Midnight may have messed up its concept, but at times it was so wacky that many would find it irresistible. Scenes of Benny being fired from a cannon, hanging off tall buildings (more than once) or most famously negotiating a huge coffee pot prop, complete with sugar and cream for the grand finale were pretty crazy even for a screwball comedy, and you could well understand why its reputation not as a dull boring waste of time but as a bomb of ludicrous proportions actually quite suited its nutty ambitions. The question remained why we were backing Athanael when he wants to eliminate us from the universe, as did one about what kind of coffee sends you to sleep, but it was memorable, even weirdly daring, give it that. Music by Franz Waxman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Raoul Walsh  (1887 - 1980)

American director with a talent for crime thrillers. Originally an actor (he played John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation) his biggest silent movie successes were The Thief of Bagdad and What Price Glory? He lost an eye while directing In Old Arizona, but went on to steady work helming a variety of films throughout the thirties, including The Bowery and Artists and Models.

After directing The Roaring Twenties, Walsh really hit his stride in the forties: They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Gentleman Jim, The Strawberry Blonde, Desperate Journey, Objective Burma!, Colorado Territory and the gangster classic White Heat were all highlights. Come the fifties, films included A Lion is in the Streets and The Naked and the Dead, but the quality dipped, although he continued working into the sixties. He also directed the infamous Jack Benny film The Horn Blows at Midnight (which isn't that bad!).

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