Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gelett Burgess on Remake Alley: "Two in the Dark" (1936) and "Two O'Clock Courage" (1945)

Gelett Burgess
1866 - 1951

Gaze upon the features of the man who gave us Goops, and How to Be Them, plus sequels, A Classic Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed, such as "blurb", and The Purple Cow.

 I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one!

The humorist, art critic, poet, author, editor (The Lark) influenced generations and continues to do so to this very day as the Gelett Burgess Center annually awards their prestigious award to the best in children's literature.

Mr. Burgess was also the author of a dandy mystery published in 1934 called Two O'Clock Courage.  The story involves an amnesiac and his attempts to prove or disprove his involvement in a high profile murder case.  Sounds perfect for the movies, doesn't it?  Well, it certainly kept the folks at RKO busy.

The 1936 version of the story is called Two in the Dark and was directed by Benjamin Stoloff, a veteran of shorts, westerns and comedies, from a Seton I. Miller (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ministry of Fear, Pete's Dragon) screenplay.

Our film opens with the silhouette of a man walking out of the fog, he stops by a street scene to ascertain his whereabouts and we see he has a head injury.

Our as yet unnamed hero is played by Walter Abel (Holiday Inn, Island in the Sky).  He is next to a gated park; it is not locked and he enters and sits on a bench barely noticing the young woman sitting on an opposite bench.  However, she notices the nattily dressed stranger with the hunted look.  No matter his circumstances, I find Walter Abel always looks very neat.

Margot Grahame, Walter Abel

The woman is played by Margot Grahame (The Informer, The Arizonian).  She is an actress whose show has closed leaving her stranded in Boston and kicked out of her boarding house by a heartless landlady.  She may have her troubles, but the poor fellow on the other bench really looks like he needs help.  The pair of them are continually hustled along by the beat cop (Ward Bond) until it is daylight.  Determining the police as their best possible place for help, they are stopped outside the station house by the morning paper which indicates our man may have something to do with a murder.  Using the scant clues available to them, initials in a hat, matchsticks from a night club and ticket stubs to a play, our detective duo sets out to determine the why, the where and, most especially, the who.

Along the course of their investigation they are involved with the official lead investigator played by Alan Hale (The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Strawberry Blonde) and a know-it-all reporter played by Wallace Ford (The Informer, The Man from Laramie).  Gail Patrick (Stage Door, My Man Godfrey) is a society gal who seems very tight with our hero.  Erin O'Brien-Moore (The Plough and the Stars, Peyton Place) is a glamorous actress with romantic problems.  There are great bits for Eric Blore (Top Hat) as a nervous butler and Erik Rhodes (Top Hat) as an hysterical musician.

The film starts off as a moody little thriller and manages to maintain that atmosphere even the addition of comic elements, personified by the reporter and the wisecracks between that character and our actress.  Abel conveys a true sense of the confusion of a man who doesn't even recognize his own face, coming to life when thrown into the midst of the action.  Grahame has a weary, resigned vibe to her character at the beginning that fades as she throws herself into the task at hand, and her unwavering belief in her companion, tinged with the hint of romance.

Actresses, butlers, tailors who sideline as amateur detectives, producers, gangsters - how will it all end?  There's a neat double twist at the end of the string for a very satisfying, entertaining film. 


The 1945 version of the story reverts to the title of Two O'Clock Courage and was directed by Anthony Mann (The Tall Target, T-Men) from a screenplay by Robert E. Kent (Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, Where the Sidewalk Ends).

Our movie begins with the silhouette of a many walking away from us into the fog.  We follow him as he stops next to a street sign and notice he is bleeding from a head wound.  He steps into the street and avoids being run down by a taxi due to the quick thinking of its female operator.  And - we're off!

 Ann Rutherford, Tom Conway

Tom Conway (The Cat People, The Falcon series) is our man with no name, but full of determination to unravel the mystery.  Ann Rutherford (Orchestra Wives, Pride and Prejudice) is the entrepreneurial young lady who turned to cab driving (she calls her car "Harry") when her acting career didn't lead anywhere.  She is a fast and voracious talker who talks herself and her companion into and out of all sorts of situations.  Her faith in her strange passenger is strong and purely romantic.

Emory Parnell (Gildersleeve's Ghost, The Falcon in Mexico), the master of bluster, here takes the part of the inspector in charge of the case.  The loud-mouthed reporter is played by Richard Lane (Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Boston Blackie series) and, believe you me, he's cornered the market on obnoxious for this role.  The banter between he and Rutherford's character is more than sparring as it is taken up a notch from the earlier feature.

Twenty year old Bettejane Greer (the "Bette" would be dropped after this film), is a pretty, but still gawky young woman in the role of our hero's date of the previous evening.  You can still see the makings of the femme fatale that would emerge by 1947s Out of the Past.  The glamorous star role is given to Jean Brooks, so heartbreakingly mysterious in The Seventh Victim

Fun bits are contributed by Chester Clute (My Favorite Wife) as a sports-minded tailor and Almira Sessions (Sullivan's Travels) as his murder mystery loving wife.  The movie's best drunk, Jack Norton (The Bank Dick), has a great part as a man who knows more than people give him credit for.  They probably could have wrapped the whole thing up with a nice sit down.  However, we run headlong into the neat double twist at the end of the string.

Two in the Dark creates a charming atmosphere to accompany the plot.  Two O'Clock Courage is louder with a sense of non-stop action.  Both films are well worth the viewer's time.  Swallowing my fear of recrimination, I'll leave the last word to Gellet Burgess : -

 Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!


  1. I have seen the second version, but not the first. I rather enjoyed TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE, but had no idea about its origin. I always thought Tom Conway as a pretty good "B" movie lead.

    1. Tom Conway is a favourite around here. Whenever he shows up in a movie or on a classic TV program we greet him like an old pal. I can always get the hubby to watch "The Falcon" because of all the pretty leading ladies!


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