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Friday, 4 May 2007

Just Before Dawn (1946) William Castle

Yep, this is a Crime Doctor picture even though it's called Just Before Dawn, which makes it sound like a half-assed noir. We're seven films in and Dr Ordway himself is the killer, administering what he believes is insulin to a diabetic needing treatment. Of course we already know that it's not insulin and so we're not too surprised to find the diabetic, played by George Meeker, quickly deceased. He manages to get out a single line before he dies, a cryptic line that Ordway would quickly discover was from Shakespeare if only he'd search for it in Google. This being 1946 he doesn't have the option though and so has to flounder around trying to work out what it means.

The story isn't bad and there's as much attempt to bring in detail as there usually is in Crime Doctor pictures but this suffers just as much from the woodenness of it all. In fact at one point Ordway is fired at from close range, survives naturally, but spends the next five or ten minutes with bandages or huge glasses over his eyes. Regular actor Warner Baxter is pretty wooden anyway but without the benefit of his eyes he's even worse. Luckily his voice is much more dynamic than his acting, which makes me wonder why he wasn't the regular Crime Doctor on radio, and he's always fun when he gets to put on a disguise. I wonder if he played Ordway like his regular self but other characters as who he secretly wants to be.

It's not a bad film and it's better than the last one, also directed by exploitation maestro William Castle, but it's hard to rave about its good side because the good side is so low key and the bad side is so obvious. The good side is that it's consistent, populated with believable characters and the ending keeps us thinking yet is not outrageous when it comes. Those aren't flashy things by definition and so it's hard to rave. However I value them far more than a lot of more obvious wow moments. Maybe that's why the series got this far without degenerating into routine.

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