“40 films from the ‘40s” is a movie challenge to watch and write about one film from that era weekly. Why the ‘40s? That decade is fascinating, because of the juxtapositions between films released during WWII and those released after. Half the decade was spent scrambling to keep nations afloat during war and the second half was spent trying to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Five days before the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, triggering the US’s entry into World War II, Warner Brothers released All Through The Night. The film is effectively a comedic-thriller, heavy in the anti-Nazi war propaganda that would dominate Hollywood’s slate of pictures in the war years. It also stars Humphrey Bogart, in a character that’s a middle-ground between The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade and Casablanca’s Rick Blaine, and Conrad Veidt and Kaaren Verne, who both fled to Hollywood from Nazi Germany.
All Through The Nightbegins with a game. A bunch of Broadway gamblers and a waiter play with army toys, trying to decide how the RAF could best win the war for England. Gambling boss and all around “good” gangster, Alfred “Gloves” Donahue (Bogart) ends this game to talk about “more important things,” like betting on race horses. When asked if he cares about the war, Gloves says (in almost Rick-like fashion), “That’s Washington’s racket. Let them handle it!” Very soon, however, Gloves will eat his words, as he searches for the villain (Peter Lorre), who kills the baker of his favorite cheesecake. His search for the truth leads him to question nightclub singer, Leda Hamilton (Kaaren Verne) and Gloves turns Patriot in order to save New York from Nazi fifth-columnists.
The plot seems ridiculous, having all started because Gloves is served the wrong cheesecake. That’s what allows for the comedy to come through in what would otherwise be a serious subject. All the gamblers overuse the stereotypical, New York “wise-guy” slang of the ‘40s. They are the exact opposite of the kind of men, who would save the city from a Nazi plot. This makes both the film work and the pro-war propaganda reach a wider audience than, say, a depressing dramatic film would be capable of. It’s all very reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate, which is filmed to make Americans aware of the possibility (whether legitimate or not) of being infiltrated by the enemy. Though of course, All Through The Night does so via suspenseful laughs, instead of suspenseful drama.
Perhaps, this is why All Through The Night does not have the timelessness of another Bogart war propaganda film, Casablanca. Unlike the latter, the 1941 Bogie film has no doomed love story, nor does it ask the question, “Is duty above everything else – even love?” However, for a quiet afternoon spent watching a 1940s film, the Nazi-thwarting adventures of All Through The Night are enjoyable and harken back to an age, where screwball comedy and Nazis were a match made in entertainment heaven.
- Karen Bacellar