The Horn Blows at Midnight
|The Horn Blows at Midnight|
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Produced by||Mark Hellinger|
|Written by||Sam Hellman|
James V. Kern
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Edited by||Irene Morra|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Its biggest claim to fame, apart from its star, is its failure at the box office. In the two decades following its release, Benny often exploited the film's failure for laughs in his popular radio and television comedy series The Jack Benny Program, making the film a well-known entity to his wide audience, even if they had never seen it. The Horn Blows At Midnight would prove to be Benny's final starring feature, although he would continue as a radio and TV star (as well as making cameo appearances in films) for years afterwards.
The Horn Blows At Midnight had the misfortune to be released only eight days after the death of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This may have contributed to its poor reception, although the film's negative reviews (often alluded in jokes mentioning the production) might have also impacted it, as the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, also dealing with the afterlife, opened on Broadway at roughly the same time and became a hit.
Athanael (Jack Benny), the third trumpet player in the orchestra of a late night radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee (motto: "It's Heavenly"), falls asleep listening to the announcer, who is doing his best to prove it is "the coffee that makes you sleep". Athanael dreams he is an angel (junior grade) and a trumpeter in the orchestra of Heaven. Due to the praise of his girlfriend Elizabeth (Alexis Smith), the assistant of the deputy chief of the department of small planet management (Guy Kibbee), he is given the mission of destroying planet 339001 (Earth) and its troublesome inhabitants by blowing the "Last Trumpet" at exactly midnight, signaling the end of the world.
When he is deposited at the Hotel Universe via the building's elevator, he accidentally foils a robbery attempt by suave guest Archie Dexter (Reginald Gardiner) and his girlfriend accomplice, Fran Blackstone (Dolores Moran). Dexter blames Fran and breaks off their relationship. When Athanael prevents her attempt at suicide from the hotel's roof, he misses the deadline. Elizabeth persuades her boss to give him a second chance, and travels to Earth to inform him.
Complications arise when two fallen angels named Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) and Doremus (John Alexander), also guests at the hotel, recognize Athanael and learn of his assignment. They want to continue their pleasantly hedonistic life. While Athanael encounters trouble holding onto his trumpet by his inexperience with Earthly life, Osidro and Doremus hire Dexter to steal the instrument. Learning that Fran was rescued by Athanael, Dexter reconciles with her. Then, while she distracts the angel, Dexter's henchman Humphrey (Mike Mazurki), steals the trumpet.
Athanael, Elizabeth and her boss track the thieves to the roof. During a struggle, Athanael falls off the building, only to wake up from his dream.
Many of the actors play dual roles, in Heaven and on Earth.
- Jack Benny as Athanael
- Alexis Smith as Elizabeth
- Dolores Moran as Violinist / Fran Blackstone
- Allyn Joslyn as Second Trumpeter / Osidro
- Reginald Gardiner as Composer / Archie Dexter
- Guy Kibbee as Radio Director / The Chief
- John Alexander as First Trumpeter / Doremus
- Franklin Pangborn as Radio Engineer / Sloan
- Margaret Dumont as Mme. Traviata / Miss Rodholder
- Robert Blake as Junior Pulplinsky (as Bobby Blake)
- Ethel Griffies as Lady Stover, a hotel guest annoyed at the frequent disappearance of the elevator
- Paul Harvey as Hotel Manager Thompson
- Mike Mazurki as Bass Player / Humphrey Rafferty
- Truman Bradley as Radio Announcer
According to Warner Bros records the film earned $895,000 domestically and $75,000 foreign.
Adaptation in other media
The script was re-worked into an episode of radio's Ford Theater, broadcast March 4, 1949. Jack Benny reprised his character of Athanael, with Claude Rains now playing the Chief. This time the story was told in a straightforward fashion, with Benny actually playing an angel sent to Earth to blow the horn, as opposed to the dream scenario of the film. The radio story focuses on Athaniel's moral dilemma about whether or not the people of Earth, just suffering World War II, deserved to be extinguished with the Earth or given another chance.
A live television adaptation of the radio script was presented as a segment of Omnibus on November 29, 1953, with Benny again playing Athaniel, and Dorothy Malone as Elizabeth. In 2013, this version was issued on an exclusive DVD available to those who purchased The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes from distributor Shout Factory's website.
The 1945 movie itself was released on DVD by Warner Archives in November 2013.
Perhaps Benny's most memorable gag involving the film occurred in the 1957 episode of his TV show, "Jack's Life Story", in which Benny drives to 20th Century-Fox to discuss a movie based on his life. At the front gate, he casually asks the guard (Mel Blanc) if he saw the movie. "Saw it?", yelled Blanc. "I DIRECTED IT!!!"
- Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 26 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551