|The Horn Blows at Midnight|
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Written by||Sam Hellman|
James V. Kern
|Produced by||Mark Hellinger|
|Edited by||Irene Morra|
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) is a comedy fantasy film directed by Raoul Walsh, and starring Jack Benny.
Following its poor box-office, Benny often exploited the film's failure for laughs over the next 20 years in his radio and television comedy series The Jack Benny Program, making the film a known entity to his audience, even if they had never seen it. The Horn Blows at Midnight was Benny's last feature film as a lead, although he would continue to do cameo appearances in films for many years.
The Horn Blows At Midnight had the misfortune to be released only eight days after the death of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This may have contributed to its poor reception, although the film's negative reviews might have also impacted it, as the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, also dealing with the afterlife, opened on Broadway at roughly the same time and became a hit.
Athanael (Jack Benny), the third trumpet player in the orchestra of a late night radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee (motto: "It's Heavenly"), falls asleep listening to the announcer, who is doing his best to prove it is "the coffee that makes you sleep". Athanael dreams he is an angel (junior grade) and a trumpeter in the orchestra of Heaven. Due to the praise of his girlfriend Elizabeth (Alexis Smith), the assistant of the deputy chief of the department of small planet management (Guy Kibbee), he is given the mission of destroying planet 339001 (Earth) and its troublesome inhabitants by blowing the "Last Trumpet" at exactly midnight, signaling the end of the world.
When he is deposited at the Hotel Universe via the building's elevator, he accidentally foils a robbery attempt by suave guest Archie Dexter (Reginald Gardiner) and his girlfriend accomplice, Fran Blackstone (Dolores Moran). Dexter blames Fran and breaks off their relationship. When Athanael prevents her attempt at suicide from the hotel's roof, he misses the deadline. Elizabeth persuades her boss to give him a second chance, and travels to Earth to inform him.
Complications arise when two fallen angels named Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) and Doremus (John Alexander), also guests at the hotel, recognize Athanael and learn of his assignment. They want to continue their pleasantly hedonistic life. While Athanael encounters trouble holding onto his trumpet by his inexperience with Earthly life, Osidro and Doremus hire Dexter to steal the instrument. Learning that Fran was rescued by Athanael, Dexter reconciles with her. Then, while she distracts the angel, Dexter's henchman Humphrey (Mike Mazurki), steals the trumpet.
Athanael, Elizabeth and her boss track the thieves to the roof. During a struggle, Athanael falls off the building, only to wake up from his dream.
Many of the actors play dual roles, in Heaven and on Earth.
According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $895,000 domestically and $75,000 foreign.
The New York Sun’s review was lukewarm: “The film is…usually mildly amusing. It never, in spite of every one’s best intentions, gets much funnier than that….It is a pleasant change for Mr. Benny, something gfar from his wisecracking radio self….The picture, never getting anywhere near the hilarious, is at its pleasantest when it caricatures a broadcast or pictures heaven as a stately bureaucracy.” The New York Post was ambivalent as well: “It takes a bold group of people to rush in on the territory covered so beautifully in ‘Green Pastures.’ The wisdom of this is questionable from several points of view, but the failure is never due to lack of trying….There is violence and slapstick, there are the wiles of Reginald Gardner and the temptations of Dolores Moran, and there are wild teeterings at the top of tall buildings. But somehow the comic fantasy doesn’t come off as planned. The big build-up remains an architectural and overworked effort.”
The script was re-worked into an episode of radio's Ford Theater, broadcast March 4, 1949. Jack Benny reprised his character of Athanael, with Claude Rains now playing the Chief. This time the story was told in a straightforward fashion, with Benny actually playing an angel sent to Earth to blow the horn, as opposed to the dream scenario of the film. The radio story focuses on Athaniel's moral dilemma about whether or not the people of Earth, just suffering World War II, deserved to be extinguished with the Earth or given another chance.
A live television adaptation of the radio script was presented as a segment of Omnibus on November 29, 1953, with Benny again playing Athaniel, and Dorothy Malone as Elizabeth. In 2013, this version was issued on an exclusive DVD available to those who purchased The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes from distributor Shout Factory's website.
The 1945 movie itself was released on DVD by Warner Archives in November 2013.
In addition to Benny's jokes on the film, composer Franz Waxman reworked some of his music for the film in a comic Overture for Orchestra that he performed on occasion.
Possibly Benny's most memorable gag involving the film occurred in the 1957 episode of his TV show, Jack's Life Story, in which Benny drives to 20th Century Fox to discuss a movie based on his life. At the front gate, he casually asks the guard (Mel Blanc) if he saw the movie. "Saw it?", yelled Blanc. "I DIRECTED IT!!!"