Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Pacific Blackout (1941)

Crime movie meets World War II homefront drama in Paramount's PACIFIC BLACKOUT (1941), a creative "couple on the run" film starring Robert Preston and Martha O'Driscoll.

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).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I'll definitely be putting this one on the list. I haven't heard of it before, but it sounds like just my cup of tea.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I think I can guarantee it's your kinda movie! :)

I love being able to get the word on this kind of little-known movie out there.

Best wishes,

8:40 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Same here, never heard of it, but sure looks like fun. Love these Bs :)

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New to me too but happy to see early Robert Preston.Thanks for telling us about this.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Kristina and Vienna! I get such enjoyment out of a "B" film like this. Just plain fun.

An additional thought -- recently I've come across a couple different movie sites which have policies of only writing about movies which can be easily obtained by readers on DVD or Blu-ray. But I think it's so important to help keep lesser-known and hard-to-find movies like PACIFIC BLACKOUT from "falling through the cracks" into permanent oblivion, by publicizing them and letting people know they're out there!

Best wishes,

1:18 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I so agree with you there, Laura.....and of course, by drawing attention to these films, it would be nice to think one of the companies with access (if they do, that is) might get the idea there would be a buying public out there.

"PACIFIC BLACKOUT" has never crossed my radar either but it sounds like my kinda movie - innocent on the run. Oh yes.

BTW, Laura, we in the UK had a new TV channel launched this week, called Talking Pictures, it is a free 24-hour channel showing predominantly B&W British 'B' movies from 1930s to 50s (absolutely fine with me) as well as some old TV shows from Four Star. My recorder is running red hot! I have finally managed to see episodes of the 1959-60 western "BLACK SADDLE" starring Peter Breck and Russell Johnson which they are showing daily in correct sequence. Oh heck, where will I find the time???????? lol

2:34 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

You're quite welcome Laura, I'm glad to have helped! And thanks for the review, I actually haven't seen this one yet myself, so I guess I'll have to change that when I have time to start watching movies again ;-)

9:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I think you'll like this one when you catch up with it. :) Thanks for the report on Talking Pictures, that's very interesting! I've never seen BLACK SADDLE but Breck and Johnson sound like an appealing team.

Thanks again, Maricatrin! I'd love to know what you think -- hope you have time to check it out soon.

Best wishes,

11:08 PM  
Blogger munkb said...

Laura where can I find a copy of Pacific Blackout ? Thank you

5:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Unfortunately this movie is somewhat difficult to find as it has never had an authorized release. You can periodically find it from "gray market" dealers online -- as I write, there is a YouTube video advertising one dealer.

Best wishes,

10:14 AM  

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