snapshot: Half Past Midnight (1948)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Sol M. Wurtzel, Twentieth Century–Fox Dir: William F. Claxton Pr: Sol M. Wurtzel Scr: Arnold Belgard Cine: Benjamin Kline Cast: Kent Taylor, Peggy Knudsen, Joe Sawyer, Walter Sande, Martin Kosleck, Mabel Paige, Gil Stratton Jr., Jean Wong, Jane Everett, Damian O’Flynn, Richard Loo, Tom Dugan, Jean De Briac, Willie Best, Victor Sen Yung, “Beetlepuss” Lewis, Max Wagner.

Peggy Knudsen as Sally.

Rich war hero, inveterate womanizer and general pain in the ass Wade Hamilton (Taylor) has come back to Los Angeles for a few days, and that’s regarded as bad news by his old childhood friend, now a detective lieutenant with the LAPD, Joe Nash (Sawyer). Joe tries to put his ol’ buddy under room arrest at the Ambassador Hotel, but reckons without the fact that a bellhop there, Chick Patrick (Stratton), was Wade’s tail-gunner over the Pacific during the war.

Freed, Wade goes to a niterie, Pierre’s, in search of a good time. He thinks he’s found it when he hooks up with the initially reluctant Sally Parker (Knudsen), who seems to be doing her best to be mistaken in a dim light for Lizabeth Scott.

Joe Sawyer (left) as Joe Nash and Walter Sande as MacDonald.

But then the niterie’s star act, Carlotta (Everett), who’s been blackmailing Sally over some letters—“written by my sister,” Sally unconvincingly claims—is gunned down, and Sally, whose real surname is Ferris, is immediately Suspect #1.

On the lam from Detective Lieutenant MacDonald (Sande) of Homicide, Wade and Sally have adventures in LA’s Chinatown as they evade the cops and try to find out who really killed Carlotta. Matters aren’t helped for them by the fact that MacDonald seems to bear Wade some ill-will:

Macdonald: “Ten years I haven’t liked you. I don’t like the way you look. I don’t like the way you talk. I don’t like the clothes you wear. I don’t like the friends you have. I don’t like your attitude. And keep your feet offa my desk!

There are small parts for Tim Dugan, as the laryngitic barker for a bus tour of Chinatown that’s always going to leave “in just a few minutes”—Dugan is more usually seen on this site as a dunderhead cop in Poverty Row comedy mysteries, though he was in fact a surprisingly talented, versatile creator—and Jean Wong as Blossom Gow, waitress at her father’s Chinese restaurant and an old friend—perhaps more?—of Wade’s. A bigger part—a sort of very large cameo—goes to Mabel Paige as Hester Thornwall, an elderly one-time “exotic showgirl” who bores everyone rigid with her showbiz reminiscences.

Gil Stratton Jr. as Chick Patrick.

The comedian Willie Best has a small part too, as cleaner Andy Jones—it’s one of those depressing grafted-on “comic” roles of the era based on the supposition that to be black is to be an idiot. Yet, so far as racism is concerned, the movie deserves credit for displaying its Chinese characters in a very favorable light: the relationship Wade has with people like Blossom’s father, Lee (Loo), is portrayed as genuine affection and friendship, devoid of any thought about supposed racial differences.

Mabel Paige as Hester Thornwall and Kent Taylor as Wade Hamilton.

Half Past Midnight has its moments, albeit rather too few of them. The comic sequences—such as a chase scene involving Blossom, Wade, Sally and MacDonald—go on way too long as the moviemakers try to milk ever more hilarity from a teat that’s already run dry, while the suspense is never really given a chance to build up. But there is some rich comedy, as when Wade, Blossom and Sally find that the crate in which they’re hiding has a rat in it. Sawyer’s excellent as the genial cop and Knudsen is a very fetching leading lady.

The title, Half Past Midnight, has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

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3 thoughts on “snapshot: Half Past Midnight (1948)

  1. Pingback: snapshot: Berlin Correspondent (1942) | Noirish

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