PACIFIC BLACKOUT was released on New Year's Eve 1941, just three weeks after Pearl Harbor. The film mixes "ripped from the headlines" wartime drama with the story of an innocent man trying to clear his name of murder.
Robert Draper (Preston) has always been an upstanding citizen and has made an important contribution to the war effort, but he's accused of a murder by nightclub singer Marie (Eva Gabor), convicted, and sentenced to die.
During a blackout drill the van taking Draper to prison crashes in the darkness and he escapes. He meets lovely, somewhat giddy Mary Jones (O'Driscoll) in a park, and although she knows who he is from newspaper coverage, she takes pity on him and helps him. Mary doesn't believe he could possibly be a murderer, and together they set out first to get rid of his handcuffs and then to figure out why he was set up to receive a death sentence. Hint: Saboteurs!
This 76-minute film was a delightful little treat. Preston and O'Driscoll have great chemistry, and their adventures are similar to those experienced by the couples in later films such as Paramount's FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942) or RKO's HIGHWAYS BY NIGHT (1942) and TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945). I really enjoy that type of film, and the formula works just as well here as it does in the other films mentioned.
O'Driscoll in particular has some nice bits of business; she plays a telephone operator, and her calls to a fellow operator, No. 37 (Mary Treen), provide some key plot points. Mary is also perpetually hungry, even grabbing food off a room service tray before fleeing down the hotel fire escape! Preston falls head over heels for her, unable to believe someone could be so sweet and trusting...and the final scene, where he takes her to a drive-in and buys her a big tray of burgers, is very cute.
The movie is also an interesting illustration of the variety of films studio contract actors made; Preston and O'Driscoll are the leads in this inexpensive "B" film, while a few months later they would each play supporting roles in Cecil B. DeMille's big production REAP THE WILD WIND (1942) for the same studio. Preston had a very nice part in the DeMille film, as Susan Hayward's sweetheart, while O'Driscoll had a much smaller role.
PACIFIC BLACKOUT has great wartime atmosphere, including the opening narrative cards which sternly warn that the movie isn't attempting to emulate the rules of a real blackout.
And just when you think the movie couldn't get any better, the pilot of a plane who doesn't realize he's about to unload real bombs over the West Coast during the drill turns out to be Rod Cameron! That certainly gave me a smile.
The supporting cast includes Philip Merivale and Louis Jean Heydt as the saboteurs, and J. Edward Bromberg has a wonderful turn as a magician-pickpocket who helps Robert and Mary.
The cast also includes familiar faces such as Thurston Hall, Spencer Charters, Cy Kendall, Russell Hicks, Robert Emmett Keane, Sammy McKim, and Clem Bevans. Bess Flowers is listed as a nightclub dance extra but I didn't spot her.
PACIFIC BLACKOUT was directed by Ralph Murphy and filmed by Theodor Sparkuhl. The story was cowritten by Curt Siodmak (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE).