Aug 5, 2010

The Hilariously Offbeat Dialogue of Deadline at Dawn (1946)

Deadline at Dawn (1946) is finally available on DVD—and I’m so glad its purple prose is now readily available to the masses. I saw this offbeat noir flick for the first time in a theater—and the over-the-top dialogue made the audience giggle so much that I thought I must have missed half of what the actors were saying.

I don’t mean to disrespect the movie, because it’s a great mystery, with interesting twists, appealing actors and even some well-executed touching moments, but that Clifford Odets script is nutty. People just don’t talk the way he writes. If you Google “purple prose Odets”—you’ll find that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Odets was best known for his association with the adventurous Group Theater in the 1930s. He wrote most of his works for the stage—the most famous being Golden Boy (which made it to the big screen as well)—but he also wrote a few memorable screenplays, including Humoresque (1946) and the snarky Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Of all of Odets’ screenplays, I have the most affection for Deadline at Dawn. It’s the sweetest-tempered noir I’ve ever seen and a loveable mutt of a movie. The dialogue may make me laugh, but it is its own brand of clever and extremely entertaining.

The story is of a sailor (Bill Williams) on shore leave who finds himself mixed up in a murder. A weary taxi dancer (Susan Hayward) and a wordy taxi driver (Paul Lukas) try to help him clear his name.

I had to share some of the incredible things these characters say. The taxi driver had the craziest lines:

A blind man could see how many boyfriends she had. Evidently the water tasted good so she jumped down the well.

Stop zigging when we should be zagging and zagging when we should be zigging.

Remember Alex, speech was given to man to hide his thoughts.

Golly Wolly it’s hot tonight.

Statistics tell us we’ll see the stars again.

I read all the incriminating papers you are looking for and I bunked them away like a squirrel.

Mr. Bartelli the bedbugs will never forgive you. Your skin is made of iron.

Between you and me and the lamppost captain, happiness is no laughing matter.

[His advice to a pair of lovers] Push through the daily shell shock of life together.

The dancer's lines are slightly less outrageous:

This is New York, where hello means goodbye.

You’d better drop down on your bendified knees and pray.

He was nervous like every butcher, baker and candlestick-maker in the town.

And the rest:

If she cut off her head, she’d be very pretty.
-Val, the conman (Joseph Calleia)

She was no lullaby, but she had the brains like a man.

Gee, time takes so long and it goes so fast.

For some reason, this exchange really cracked me up:

Sailor: Do you hear anything?
Dancer: Only your breathing.
Sailor: Is that what that is?

Image Sources: Poster, Odets Photo


  1. Oh wow. I think I might have to watch this again and pay attention to the dialogue. I guess I'm used to silly lines in movies that I glossed over these. But when you list them this way they are hilarious! :-)

  2. Well, I'm sold. I'm not a massive fan of film noir but it definitely sounds like a film worth tracking down..

    It also has Lola Lane in it, which is never a bad thing in my book.

  3. Raquelle--I'm sure I picked up on the dialogue because I saw it with an audience first. That, and because Eddie Muller introduced the movie and told us how crazy it was going to be! I hope you will check it out again though, because I didn't even list everything; it's wall-to-wall with crazy lines.

    Russell--This is definitely not your typical noir, though I suppose it qualifies overall. It probably deserves its own genre; it's that unusual. Let me know what you think if you see it!