movie review: Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)

What did you watch? The police drama Between Midnight and Dawn (1950).

Was it noir, even though you typed “film noir” in the search? Nope.

Is the movie more or less interesting than the people who made it? We’ll get to that.

Does stuff at least happen? Oh yeah.

Between Midnight and Dawn is about two patrol cops who are best buddies through thick and thin. One (Dan) is cynical and mean, the other (Rocky) is upbeat. They work the night shift and seems to know a lot of mobsters on their beat. Like I don’t know how well patrol cops are invested in organized crime if they’re not taking bribes in these films.  They seem well aware of murderous Ritchie, who runs a nightclub with a bunch of other people in his gang.

They’re also both mesmerized by one of the police radio ladies, Kate. Kate lives with her mother, and her father was a police officer who was killed on duty. Okay, that’s the setup of the characters. Kate is promoted to assist Dan & Rocky’s lieutenant, so they stop by the precinct to sexually harass her. She agrees to go to dinner with both of them,  after several clear “NO”s, and they take her to the nightclub run by mobsters. That’s right, they’re beat cops who are afterhours going on a stakeout and dragging this poor lady with them. They recognize a mobster from out of town, and are spotted by Ritchie. Ritchie tries to play nice with our trio and they get in his face about what scum he is, and leave.

Ritchie and the visiting mobster have one of those “you stay out of my territory” kind of talks. We get to see some inner workings in their group. The club’s singer is dating Ritchie, and in their apartment building is a little girl who likes to visit the nightclub singer while she was home. This is Chekov’s Little Girl in playwriting by the way.

ANYWAY, Rocky & Dan drop off Kate who tells them somewhat hilariously that she never wants to see them outside of work again. So, our heroes get assigned in surveilling the mobsters, and rent out the extra rooms in Kate’s mother’s home. Kate is mortified. Kate’s mom is like “what? What’s the big deal?” not making the connection that they both might be traumatized by her late husband’s death in their backstory to have more cops who are infatuated with Kate around. It’s comedy that they annoy Kate.

Stuff happens. The visiting mobster is gunned down by Ritchie and his gang, and Dan & Rocky are on patrol that night and end up getting into a car chase complete with a shootout with Ritchie. Ritchie in some great acting (or overacting, still loved it) desperately offers them a bribe to let him go. Meanwhile Kate hears on the radio that there was a shootout and realizes it’s Rocky & Dan’s car that was involved, and no further info is coming other than the need for an ambulance, and she tags along with the lieutenant to see what happened. Rocky’s OK, and she is overjoyed – she HAS fallen in love with him, and now they’re going to get married, and Dan looks more sullen somehow.

(This is the 50’s, and as these movies have taught us, courtship is incredibly brief. Meet cutes develop or devolve into engagements within one scene in many cases.)

Ritchie is tried for his gangland murder and sentenced to death. He is in prison and complains about the wound he suffered in the shooting with Dan & Rocky, and is taken to the prison infirmary, where his goons gun down the doctor and through the window. HE ESCAPES, and then hunts down Dan & Rocky who are in their patrol car. I don’t know if he knows it’s them, or what luck – but he opens fire on the two,  shooting Rocky in the face.

Sheesh. Rocky dies, and Kate is devastated. There’s a BOLO for Ritchie, and cops are keeping an eye on his club singer girlfriend. (as I was typing this up, I forgot this detail: Dan takes Kate to the nightclub, to put the pressure on the singer. Kate is like “why” and I’m like “WHY are you going out with Dan so soon after Rocky’s death, why if you don’t want to be there did you go.” Dan and Kate goes into the dressing room where Dan starts yelling at the singer before SLAPPING HER” and they leave.)

The moll is getting packed to blow town, and Ritchie sneaks in to their apartment. And so does the little girl in the building, and of course the cops show up on the scene. Ritchie holds the little girl hostage. Dan, because it HAS to be Dan, climbs into the window and throws a smoke grenade (tear gas?) which has magic gas to only stay in one room of this large apartment. Ritchie starts shooting blindly, and his girlfriend steps in front of him and is violently shot down by Ritchie a few times. Ritchie doesn’t get away. Dan and Kate, I don’t know if they fall in love as  a consolation prize, but THE END.

Wow, stuff happens. It sure does. It’s not that deep – very simple “here’s characters, one likes a girl, she brushes him off, she finds out he’s in danger, now she’s in love with him.” Then that character is gunned down, so revenge. It’s not badly acted or anything like that, it’s just that that’s literally the courtship of Rocky & Kate, and Dan’s motivation. He’s a hard edge cop and maybe Rocky tried to keep him less cynical. Are Dan & Kate dating as a result? “Well, my boyfriend I knew all of two minutes who dragged me to a bar to intimidate a gangster on our first date I didn’t want to go on, who then MOVED into my mom’s extra room to bother me, DIED, so I guess I better get with his sullen angry best friend.” That’s the type of direction these movie plots go into, that either Dan is interchangeable for Rocky as far as Kate’s concerned OR there’s not much going on in this town and Kate better get hitched to literally the guy standing next to Rocky before she becomes an old maid. I mean that’s not exactly how their relationship develops at the end of the movie, but I wonder if that’s where we’re supposed to think it’s leading.

I’ll say this though:  the movie looks pretty good, especially for the car chase point of view. Hey, it has to take a lot of time and lighting to get that view from the backseat as the car pulls up to a crime scene. I don’t know how often they did stuff like this at the time, so maybe it’s not that impressive.  I just don’t see a lot of in-car while actually driving shots in these kinds of movies at the time. (remember, cameras were HUGE and film was EXPENSIVE.) And if it was done with a stationary car in front of a rear projected screen, you fooled me! Good job.

Dan is played by Edmund O’Brien, who had a long career in film and TV. His most famous role on screen would have to be the ultimate sensational crime movie plot, D.O.A., where he discovers he’s been poisoned and has a couple days to live, and goes on a tear to find out who poisoned him. The other cast members had pretty long careers as well, but I’ll mention director Gordon Douglas, who worked in film and TV for over 40 years. He made a lot of war and crime films, and I have to check out some of those, but he also directed the giant monster movie THEM!, about large ants attacking a town. He’d later diversify further like the stylish spy film In Like Flint, but he’d work with Frank Sinatra a bunch including with Frank’s Academy Award winning movie The Detective (the semi-related but not really a prequel to Die Hard).

Is this movie worth checking out?  Meh. It’s barely a procedural, it’s not really a love story, it’s just stuff that happens, and you don’t get any speeches that ties in the events for any life lessons other than crime doesn’t pay and they’ll get you eventually, I guess. But it looks pretty good otherwise and moves along at its somewhat normal movie length. There’s better crime movies though. I’m just sayin’.

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