It’s Later Than You Think

Continuing to explore Irving Reis’s work. The 1940 melo ONE CROWDED NIGHT takes place in an auto farm — my favourite venue! Think HEAT LIGHTNING and THE PETRIFIED FOREST and James M. Cain’s classic short story The Baby in the Icebox. A liminal space that’s gas station, diner and motel all in one. A place of potential drama. It spends most of its runtime stacking subplots atop one another, a game of narrative Buckaroo that’s not as interesting to watch as it must have been to execute, but when the climax is triggered and everything collapses and collides, it’s terribly exciting.

 

There’s plenty evidence the movie was intended to take its title from the prominently and regularly featured sundial constructed from rocks in the dustbowl location — the eventual choice seems designed to alibi the huge scaffolding of wild coincidence upon which the movie is assembled. At this auto farm we have the relatives of a convict, falsely jailed as a getaway driver (he was at gunpoint); then the convict arrives, having broken out, he’s determined to catch the heisters and clear his name; the heisters are also present, in another cabin; so are two detectives, escorting a soldier who went AWOL to see his pregnant wife; so is the wife, who fainted during her bus’s rest stop; so is a defrocked doctor, now running a medicine show; so is the moll of a heister’s associate, now working as the cook. And the convict’s wife is recognized by fellow residents of Duluth (we’re in Arizona) who are Just Passing Through.

Since it’s obvious how these characters are intended to intersect, interest comes from a few neat tricks by Reis (and a few daft ones) and from the unstarry cast. JM Kerrigan as the quack gets a prominent credit, presumably because he had just been in GONE WITH THE WIND. His whole schtick screams “WC Fields was unavailable!” Anne Revere, with her beautiful cliff-face face (Precipice Woman) and hubbie Paul Guilfoyle with his ugly-beautiful loser puss. Gale Storm, a silly stage name appended to a cute teenager. And Harry Shannon, physically unrecognizable as Charles Foster Kane’s future father, but instantly familiar due to that great, muffled voice (like somebody pumped his sinuses full of cotton wool until the whole back of his face was stuffed.

“That’s the train with all the lights on it.”

Though it opens with a striking (and highly atypical for 1940) zoom shot, the movie’s best flourish is saved for the climactic shootout, where one guy falls down, shot, BANG! and SLAP! a newborn is welcomed into the world. Nature balance itself, with a little help from dialectical montage.

4 Responses to “It’s Later Than You Think”

  1. ” a defrocked doctor”
    Clergymen are defrocked. Doctors are struck off the register.

  2. Yes, I went looking for the right adjective. “Delicensed is sometimes used but it lacks the right implication of shame and disgrace.

  3. John Warthen Says:

    They call(ed) them “motor courts” in the US South, and long as you’ve favored us with names of some good ones, let’s add HEAT LIGHTNING– seems there’s a bit of a cult around Aline MacMahon’s singular lead performance as proprietress-auto mechanic.

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