The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)
User ReviewsReview this title
THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT is not a great film, but it is a very interesting one and quite often a very entertaining one. The story concerns a trumpet player (Benny) in love with a harpist (Alexis Smith)--who gets him a radio job on the "Paradise Coffee Program," which advertises a coffee that promises a gentle sleep and sweet dreams. And dream he does, but one would not call it sweet: he dreams he is an angel sent to earth to blow the trumpet that will destroy the world.
Although the script is a bit weak, it has some really great concepts. Heaven is a bureaucracy beset by an endless orchestra and a shortage of angel-power. Elevators take angels to earth, right to the lobby of a New York hotel--and tie up elevator traffic, much to the annoyance of guests. And fallen angels lie in wait to trip Ethanael up! The art direction is extremely fine, dribbling comic surrealism with tremendous flair. In perhaps the film's most memorable scene, Ethanael finds himself drowning in a gigantic cup of coffee. Paradise Coffee, no doubt! Benny, co-star Alexis Smith, and such memorable characters as Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, and Guy Kibbe perform the show with as much energy as they can muster, and at it's best the movie is hilariously over-the-top. The script lets them down once too often for comfort, but even so the whole thing makes for an entertaining show. Recommended as imaginative, often extremely clever fluff.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Good versus evil, greed versus generosity, heaven versus life on earth. The "fish out of water" sequences where Jack Benny, as an angel, struggles to adjust to the realities of life on earth, are also very funny and timeless. All that and Jack Benny's warm and funny screen presence make this an appealing picture.
Well, it's easy to see why this one just fell short of the mark. The script is a hodgepodge about a trumpeter who must redeem himself by returning to earth on a special mission. His girlfriend is played by the lovely Alexis Smith who shows a flair for light comedy in this caper.
Relying on a succession of sight gags to keep things moving, it's all done in brisk screwball/fantasy style under Raoul Walsh's direction. You can spot the youthful Bobby Blake in the park sequence as the boy who won't give up Benny's trumpet.
The heavenly sequences are done with a certain style that is missing in the earthbound adventures--but the uneven film is not nearly as bad as Benny claimed it to be.
But here it is, the picture that Jack Benny loved to joke about; yet it's really a terrific comedy, a rollicking "laff-riot" as the marquees used to shout out in front of the great movie palaces.
There's no wasted film here; the gags just keep on coming, and they roll along so quickly that you'll scarcely have time to ponder the subtleties. See it, and see it again to catch those missed subtleties, and a chance to wallow in its great 1940s art deco sets, swing music and costuming.
Don't miss the original "Heavenly Symphony" by the Great Orchestra And Choir In The Sky, and a quick gag cameo by flute-player John Garfield.
Mine is one of the many "10" votes on the IMDb ratings list, reinforced by my seeing "Horn" again yesterday and remembering (though I never forgot) just how great a film comedy it is, and how Hollywood used to know how to make us laugh.
A FAR better movie than Jack Benny claimed (for years afterward he did jokes about the film, wondering why he didn't get an Oscar), THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT is simply a cartoon for adult audiences, staged with human beings instead of animated drawings. It uses all of the basic tools of a cartoon... an outlandish situation, a suspension of belief in reality, and a total disregard for physics and natural law.
A lot of posters here criticize the movie for not being funnier. It IS funny, very much so... but it's a much more laid back and understated humor than we see in today's films. Remember, film audiences in 1945 were not expecting to see something out of PORKIES or ANIMAL HOUSE; their tastes were a lot different than ours. This isn't a comedic style that beats you over the head; it's a platform that lets the considerable comedic talent employed show off it's best schtick... Margaret Dumont playing her trademark Upper Class Lady (as Mme. Traviata, the opera singer) and looking completely ridiculous in that role with her choice of music... Reginald Gardener using his facial expressiveness to indicate extreme pain at the mutilation of his music... Benny doing his stand-up jokes... and Franklin Pangborn, "The Master of the Slow Burn", displaying his best move again and again all thru the movie.
There IS over the top craziness here tho, in the final dream sequence where the battle for possession of the trumpet takes place. In good WB cartoon style they saved the insanity for the end of the picture. The cartoon sound effects show up in profusion here, and Stalling's cartoon musical scoring comes to the fore; THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE being played in perfect Termite Terrace style to indicate drunkenness gets it's point across perfectly.
It's a FAR better movie than Benny ever let on in his radio show patter; he should have been PROUD of it, and I suspect that actually he secretly WAS.
Seeing it today it's not as bad as all that, in fact it has a few funny moments. Benny is a trumpeter in a radio studio orchestra and he falls asleep during the announcer's commercial for Paradise Coffee, the coffee that makes you sleep. In his dream Benny becomes an angel playing trumpet in a heavenly orchestra, larger than anything Leonard Bernstein ever directed. He gets an assignment from one of the bosses Guy Kibbee to blow his heavenly trumpet at midnight to signal the utter destruction of a minor planet the natives call Earth.
Needless to say Benny bungles the job and the film is his effort to complete his assignment. Kibbee's not pleased and he sends Alexis Smith down from heaven to babysit Jack. Later on Kibbee himself shows up. There are a couple of fallen angels played by Allyn Joslyn and John Alexander who like the life they've got on earth now. And there's Reginald Gardiner who's a musician and a society burglar with his assistant Dolores Moran who Benny interrupts mid crime and a host of other familiar movie faces which in itself is reason enough to watch The Horn Blows At Midnight.
Jack plays some tribute to Harold Lloyd with some stunts at the climax involving some great height. There's a gag involving a human pendulum that was later used with other familiar faces in It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Jack also becomes rocket man at one point, clearly copying Bob Hope being shot out of a cannon in The Road To Zanzibar.
Don't believe the hype about The Horn Blows At Midnight, you might actually like it.
On the other hand, Jack Benny made a 1-hour radio version of this movie for The Ford Theater in 1949. That version isn't great; it's like most comedy from that era that hasn't worn as well as those from earlier or later time periods. However, it has a better script, and it is NOT a dream! More importantly, whoever did the update was able to come up with a pretty good ending for a story that sets up an impossible situation (destroying the world isn't typically considered a good ending in a comedy). The radio version's ending was very timely for 1949, and a little sad listening to it today.
If you want to hear it, the radio version is relatively easy to locate on the internet. Just search for "The Horn Blows at Midnight" and "Ford Theater", and you should be able to find multiple sites with the mp3.
This is the movie that I think off when some one mentions Jack Benny. I especially liked the eating scene. You can see it again in some of the inexpensive pizza chains. However the whole movie was well done. Watch poor detective, Franklin Pangborn who asks if the elevator goes up forever and gets is answer. Just watching the trumpet traveling around make you want to jump in the movie and grab it. Other scenes make you want to put on your water wings.
Watching this is enough to give you the twinges.
This film is one of the best 78 minutes an aspiring film buff could watch to see a collection of great character actors from the 1930s and 1940s: Allyn Joslyn, Reginald Gardner, Guy Kibbee, Margaret Dumont, Dudley Dickerson, Ethel Griffies, Mike Mazurky, James Burke, the under-used blonde dish Dolores Moran, and the endlessly imitable Franklin Pangborn. Oh, yes, and 12-year-old Robert Blake as Junior Pulplinsky.
The action begins at the rehearsal of a radio station band. One particular musician, Benny, is particularly inept, blowing wrong notes and eventually allowing himself to be soothed into a daze by the announcer's cooing plaudits of the show's sponsor's coffee.
The action shifts to Heaven, where the harried Chief (Guy Kibbee) receives the assignment to demolish the Earth, which has been particularly troublesome of late. The task involves sending an angel armed with Gabriel's horn to Earth, where, at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, he'll play a simple melody which will end everything. At least for the locals on the small, irksome world.
When his secretary Elizabeth (Alexis Smith) suggests novice angel junior class Athanael (Benny) for the task, the Chief is horrified. Athanael, it seems, routinely fumbles any task he's given. Still, a little angelic coaxing works wonders. Athanael is assigned the chore and sent to Earth.
He arrives in one of the elevators of a major New York hotel (much to the confusion of the hotel manager (Paul Harvey), who will be unable to understand this cage's ongoing disappearances throughout the film.
In the lobby, Athanael runs into trouble almost instantly. He's been warned of Fallen Angels -- angels who were sent to Earth on similar tasks, but who got swept up in the nightlife and failed to return to Heaven. Two such reprobates (twins fro two musicians who had given Benny woe in the prologue), Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) and Doremus (John Alexander) spot him and realize why he's there. They decided to coax him away from his assignment by enlisting the assistance of a vamp (Dolores Moran) and offering him some small nook in their Earthly business concerns.
When it seems that Athanael is wavering, Elizabeth gains permission to go to Earth and try to guide him through completing his assignment. She arrives and is instantly recognized by the Fallen Angels.
Athanael promptly loses the horn as collateral against a huge meal he can't actually pay for, and the rest of the film concerns his trying to trace it to its new locale and recover it before the stroke of midnight.
The ending is a madhouse, with everyone on the hotel's roof, alternately trying to stop Athanael and save their own lives as they sway out over the distant streets below.
Benny then awakens in the studio, when his chair tips back and he falls from the bandstand. It was all a dream.
Wish it were on DVD, AND colorized (which apparently is something not worth doing any longer, now that "the anti-colorization Nazis" seem to have won): It not that they don't wish to see it colorized (which I can respect), but that they do not wish ME to see it colorized--which is incomprehensibly selfish of them!
When you read more recent reviews by professional critics, you find they are often quite kind to this film. Leonard Maltin, for example, wrote that the film is "broad" and "funny".
I have always enjoyed this film. The first test it passes for me is that it is different. Some comedies you can get mixed up with other comedies. Not "The Horn Blows At Midnight". It's unique.
Second, the entire cast is rather pleasing. I'm not sure that Jack Benny was ideal for film. In "George Washington Slept Here", he was too sarcastic, for example. But here, he's pleasant enough...and you can almost imagine him as a not too with-it angel bungling his job. As much as Red Skelton and Bob Hope can tickle my funny bone, they would have been all wrong for this film. No, Benny was ideal for the story.
Then there's Alexis Smith in one of my favorite films with her. She's been better...and not. She's very pleasing here.
The supporting actors are terrific. Guy Kibbee is perfect as the "boss" angel, Reginald Gardiner is perfect as the thief (and he's not always one of my favorites), and Franklin Pangborn is great as the house detective (and a master of the slow burn). And, as defrocked angels -- Allyn Joslen and John Alexander (another character actor I'm usually not enthralled with, but who does very nicely here). There are others you'll recognize, as well, and they all do exactly what they need to do.
And the climactic scene -- Benny getting flushed into the coffee ad machine -- is truly a classic, and one that I never forgot after seeing it as a kid. It still makes me laugh out loud. ANd it's that rare time that you'll Jack Benny doing physical comedy. And, I wonder, did Stanley Kramer watch this scene before he filmed "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"? Highly recommended for the fantasy sequences, as well as the period atmosphere that is so clearly outlined here. A heckuva unique comedy!
However, it was not a bomb at all, and was a modest success when first released in April 1945.
The real reason this movie bombed at the box office was timing. It was released right at the end of World War 2, after Hitler had ravaged almost all of Europe, and Japan had made a colossal mess out of the South Pacific, and then WE nuked TWO of their cities to stop them!
People then were very sensitive about issues like life and death, Heaven and Hell, even in a comedy context, in America. Almost every family had lost someone near and dear to them in the War, and they didn't want to be reminded of these kinds of things even in a Hollywood movie, at least for a few years until STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (1947) in beautiful Technicolor starring David Niven and Kim Hunter proved that the postwar era had begun.
If only WB had waited until the fall of 1945 to release this, it would have fared much better at the box office and with movie critics far and wide, and given Jack Benny something to be proud of, instead of a long-running gag in his later years.
Usually it's this type of picture that irritates me but this time you know it's a dream right up front so you can go along with the premise. The writers put together some clever gimmicks like the hourly twinges endured by Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) and Doremus (John Alexander), along with Slippy Tompkins' Tomcats and Tarzola the Rocket Man. The hotel elevator business was kind of a neat touch too.
OK, so it's not Oscar material but who expected that? I always liked jack Benny as a performer, even though I prefer his variety show format and TV sketches. As a member of the Third Phalanx, Fifteenth Cohort, he did a reasonable enough job here to garner a few chuckles. All the rest of it - well, dream sequence.
For the longest time I believed this was just a joke and that the film wasn't nearly as bad as Jack made it out to be.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT is possibly the most ill-advised project Benny ever signed up for, and I say that as a die-hard Benny fan and proud owner of every episode of his radio show.
He plays Athaneal, third trumpet player in a radio orchestra, who falls asleep during a broadcast and dreams that he's an angel sent to Earth to blow the last trumpet, signaling the end of the world, at exactly midnight. But a couple of fallen angels, who'd previously failed to do the job, are determined to stop him. Confusion ensues as the inept Athaneal attempts to complete his mission, oblivious to the deceitful wiles of his opponents.
Given the premise, the fine supporting cast (Reginald Gardner, Franklin Pangborn, Alexis Smith, Margaret Dumont,Guy Kibbee, Mike Mazurki) and veteran director Raoul Walsh at the helm, this should have been a surefire hit. So why does the entire project fall flat on its face?
There's several reasons.
The script is terrible,the supporting cast is wasted and the comedy is lame in the extreme. Neither of the credited screenplay writers demonstrate the slightest talent for writing comedy above a fifth grade level, and it's directed with a complete absence of style. An overwhelming sense of desperation pervades every scene involving bits of business that might very - very - loosely be termed comedy, and the story's climax is so crudely constructed as to be downright embarrassing.
On their own these failings cripple the film, but what really sabotages any chance of success for THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT is the casting or - more accurately - the miscasting of Jack Benny.
By 1945 Benny's character was firmly established in the American psyche thanks to his long running and immensely popular radio show. As far as the public was concerned Benny was vain, penny pinching, petty, frequently exasperated and eternally 39 years old. He was a consummate comedian who didn't tell jokes but allowed himself more often than not to be the butt of jokes set up by the talented cast of characters he surrounded himself with on his weekly show. He could get a bigger laugh out of his patented pause than any punchline, and he was - despite his many apparent character flaws - universally loved by radio audiences.
THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT takes advantage of exactly none of these traits, choosing instead to have Benny play a thinly sketched character who looks like Jack Benny but doesn't resemble him at all. There's nothing in the part of Athaneal that contemporary audiences could identify with, and nothing in this new Benny character that's funny enough to elicit a laugh either. Why have him be a trumpeter when he was universally known as a (very bad) violin player is a mystery.
The sum total of these misjudgments is a film that's a major disappointment.I'm not surprised that Benny mocked it for the rest of his days. What else could he do? He had to have recognised it was an incredible career misstep and one which he was lucky to recover from because he didn't depend on films to sustain his popularity.
Had his radio show writers been similarly dumb enough to tamper with a winning formula we probably wouldn't remember him today as one of the greats of American comedy.
Check out more of my reviews at http://thefilmivejustseen.blogspot.com/
The writing here is absolutely ridiculous as the film turns mostly into a slap-stick farce, with all sorts of silly situations created by Benny and his cohorts.
Watch for Ethel Griffies, of all people, to briefly kick up her heels. Franklin Pangborn, with his usual sneers, provides some comedy relief, and Reginald Gardiner is just too Reginald Gardiner to play a villain here.
Alexis Smith is wasted as Benny's fellow angel,and Mike Mazursky is his usual heavy-handed henchman.
Margaret Dumont's comic gifts are also wasted here, as she appears briefly in two scenes.