Looking Backward: The Great Moment (1944), “Second Looks,” and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

11 May

When I lived in Boston, I used to read in the Public Garden, usually in the shadow of a column not too far from the equestrian statue of Washington. Throughout the first autumn I was there, the weather was so nice that I kept dozing off every time I started to read. Eventually I took a closer look at the column – a monument to the discovery of the painkilling properties of ether. So the dozing made sense, I guess.

My understanding of the story behind the studio’s meddling with The Great Moment (gleaned from the magical community that is the TCMParty hashtag) is fairly (I almost said “patently”) obvious throughout. The pace just isn’t a Sturges pace, and it’s clear that a few conversations are joined in medias res but weren’t filmed that way. Things are missing, the tone is uneven. But there’s something about watching the Sturges/Paramount stable get to try something unusual that has its pleasures. For me.

Demarest and McCrea

The man knew his business.

Kudos to William Demarest for doing what he clearly knew to be his job – his repetitive “night of September 30th” story is a highlight, or at least a running gag that works. It’s a tricky proposition for an actor: will I be known for range (Streep, Day-Lewis) or for reliability (everyone in this cast)? Coming from the world of Clown, there’s something really appealing to me about being a Pangborn, a Kibbee or a Hale. No one is ever unhappy to see your face, and after a certain critical mass of exposure/dependability you start to take on an important Brechtian function, becoming a human shorthand character that starts communicating expectations just by showing up (which can then be used or abused as necessary).

As I write this, The Horn Blows at Midnight is still on – Benny just did his brilliant read of the “eight beautiful – nine beautiful – TEN beautiful girls?” line. Like nearly anyone who knows this movie, I knew the jokes at its expense first (one of the first videotapes I ever owned, circa 11 years old, was a pair of Jack Benny Programs from the early 50s, one of which featured Humphrey Bogart and a cheap stab at this movie). Its charms are hard for me to resist or further explain. I will simply sit here quietly, laughing to myself and getting the Fallen Angel Twinges every sixty minutes. Pardon me.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

Oh, come on, it’s not THAT bad.

Again, both of these are a result of TCM’s decision to do these “Second Looks” Fridays hosted and curated by Illeana Douglas, who has equaled any (and surpassed most) of the channel’s celebrity programmers. Douglas clearly has a level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and articulation that really hit the sweet spot for an ideal guest host. Here’s hoping they decide to bring her and this feature back on an at least semi-regular basis. It’s nice to have the obscurities treated with the delight and information usually reserved for name pictures and the “problematic” seen as worth watching for all kinds of reasons.

2 Responses to “Looking Backward: The Great Moment (1944), “Second Looks,” and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)”

  1. dave May 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    I agree with your comments. By the way, it’s Public Garden, not “gardens”. You’re probably not from Boston originally; for some reason people not from here always make it plural.

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