“What kind of lounge lizard are you?”
In Deadline at Dawn, Alex Winkley (Bill Williams), a young naive sailor wakes up after a drinking binge to find a wad of money in his pocket. He only has vague memories of exactly how he spent the last few hours, and with just a short time of his leave remaining (he has to take a bus to Virginia at 6 in the morning), he sidetracks into a dancehall. Here he befriends sour, hard-as-nails June Goth (Susan Hayward). Alex reminds June of her younger brother who’s serving as a belly gunner. Feeling sorry for Alex, she takes him home, and listens to his tale of woe. When she hears about the money, she insists he return it immediately. But there’s a problem–the woman Edna Bartelli (Lola Lane) Alex spent the evening with is dead–strangled and dumped on her living room floor. Alex doesn’t think he killed her, but then again he remembers being angry and blacking out. June decides to help Alex prove his innocence and they have just until dawn to do it.
In the few hours remaining, June and Alex come across a motley assortment of characters in the night. They have one lead–a beautiful blonde with a limp–but in the meantime they meet Gus (Paul Lukas), a philosophical taxi driver, and eventually run foul of Val Bartelli (Joseph Calleia) the murdered woman’s violent and unforgiving brother.
Susan Hayward as June seems out of her class here–while her scenes elevate the film above mediocrity, her performance just isn’t enough to salvage it. Some of the minor roles are not acted well, and with some great lines and some poor, the dialogue is spotty. Then there’s the entire relationship blossoming between June and Alex. Alex is portrayed as a naive country bumpkin, but he doesn’t seem just naive–he seems not very bright. In contrast, June is older and worldly wise. A romance between these two isn’t just implausible. It’s downright laughable. Special mention here however for Joseph Calleia in the role of Val Bartelli. His scenes bring a liveliness and an authenticity to an otherwise mediocre minor film noir. Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, the film is directed by Harold Clurman.