Powell's O'Clock has a snappy answer for every occasion. Moreover, he's always in charge, whether it's the cops, women, or his conniving partner. Except for a couple points of interest, however, it's a thoroughly average crime drama, even with the noirish overtones. For me, the problem is with the O'Clock character. It looks like the script was tailored to advance Powell's career from sappy song & dance man of the 30's to hardboiled leading man of the 40's. In short, if he's being menaced here by noir's unseen forces, it's crucially not reflected in his one-dimensional behavior.
The makeover started with the excellent Murder, My Sweet (1944). But that crime drama had a fine Chandler script and a sometimes befuddled detective Marlowe (Powell). This film, on the other hand, has the trappings of noir (dark venues, a faithless woman), but without the compelling subtleties. For example, O'Clock is too predictable in his superiority. As a result, we're not drawn into the plot challenges. Instead, we merely observe them, certain that O'Clock will triumph over every situation. Thus, what we're told is a sometimes interesting story, but without the added emotion of participating in it.
Fortunately, there are several engaging characters that color the narrative. Cobb's laconic cop can do more acrobatics with a cigar than any scene stealer I've seen; Drew's faithless wife gets away with more really provocative poses than usual for the time; while, Kellogg's devoted man-servant conveys at one point a rather unexpected overtone. At the same time, it's too bad we don't see more of that priceless old hard case Mabel Paige. On the other hand, Gomez's schemer lacks the kind of wicked edge his key part needs.
This is not meant to take away from Powell the actor. He was, of course, a fine performer as his overall career shows. This film, however, serves as little more than a vehicle for his tough-guy makeover. The trouble is, it comes at a cost to the picture.
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