Classic Film Talk: ‘Count the Hours!” (1953)

Teresa Wright Centennial

Today we reminisce about

Count the Hours! (1953)

Directed by Don Siegel

Starring: Teresa Wright & Macdonald Carey

 

Premise

It is mid-October. A mystery man is walking down the street in the middle of the night with only the moonlight as his guide. We follow his shadowy figure until he reaches his destination, a semi-rural house. Grabbing a spare key from a hiding spot, he enters the residence and immediately heads for a desk. He wastes no time in breaking open its locked drawer with a knife, creating a slight stir loud enough to awaken the owner of the house who promptly arms himself with a rifle gun. When the two men come face-to-face, the mystery man shoots the owner with a handgun and thereafter shoots the housemaid who had come to see about the ruckus. Though not initially fatally shot, the two victims later die of their wounds.

The next morning, the owner is found dead by his nephew and he immediately calls upon a couple who rent a small dwelling on the property. He questions whether or not they heard anything, seeming shocked and suspicious that they had not. The husband, George Bradon, is questioned by police who oddly give him little leeway in considering his innocence. When asked if he has a gun, George lies out of fear because his is the same model as the one used to kill the two victims. Overhearing this, his wife Ellen (Teresa Wright) rushes back to their domicile to try and hide the gun. She manages to conceal it long enough for the police not to find it in their home, thereafter running to throw the gun in a nearby body of water. Just as she gets rid of it, George comes clean about owning a gun and they all head back to retrieve it so to prove that it was not used to shoot the victims.

In trying to save her husband, Ellen instead disposes of the evidence that would have proven his innocence and gets her own self singled out as a co-conspirator. Both George and Ellen are taken to police headquarters and questioned for over 16 long, miserable hours. The situation becomes too much for Ellen who starts to emotionally crack. George, desperate for his wife (who we later learn is in the early stages of pregnancy) to be left alone, signs a confession so that she can be released but without really thinking about the consequences. Assigned by the District Attorney to represent George Bradon is Doug Madison (Macdonald Carey), who will act as the public defender. Highly unmotivated by the case and doubtful of his client’s innocence, Doug initially plans on giving up the case until he spots Ellen diving in the water in an attempt to recover the gun. Realising that he should give the Bradons the benefit of the doubt, he stays on the case and works his hardest to overturn George’s death row conviction. Doug’s final chance will come only hours before the planned execution. Will there be enough to time to prove George Bradon innocent and find the person responsible for the murders?

 

Thoughts

The initial plot set-up for Count the Hours! had a lot potential to be a smart and engaging film noir. Unfortunately, the finished product falls well short of having either of these attributes.

A large part of the problem is the low-budget nature of the film which gives an overall generic feeling to the whole thing. Scenes were filmed with very bare surroundings and even minimal camera movements, sometimes having an entire scene filmed with one stale shot. Whilst watching the film alongside me, my husband noted that the only difference between this film and any other B-flick is the acting. (His statement is quite accurate, sadly.) From the little that I have been able to read about the film’s production, budgeting was limited and the filmmakers had to go without certain amenities such as overhead lighting. There were talented people assigned to this film, such as director Don Siegel, who was the second-unit director on Casablanca, and cinematographer John Alton, who had two years prior filmed the huge ballet dream sequence in An American in Paris. It is unknown to me why they were assigned this lacklustre project which they managed to actually improve. Considering their lack of resources, this is no less than a miracle.

Running a little over 75 minutes long also weakens the film because it does not give sufficient opportunity for the storyline to ripen. Instead, the bulk of the action and setup happens in the first 30 minutes. Only in the last 15 minutes or so does any critical thinking in the Bradon case occur, when it is nearly too late. This is extremely frustrating as a viewer because many of the characters are acting completely irrational, borderline daft. In the specific case of George Bradon, the police were ready to lock him up simply from him being a gun owner and due to his “lowly” profession as a food tramp (meaning someone who picks/harvests produce). Essentially, George is forced to sign a confession less than 24 hours after the bodies were discovered. Later on in the film near the end, the D.A. claims that he and the police department spent a week trying to dig-up information on another suspect. How could that be the case when the D.A. was practically doing high-fives after getting Bradon’s signature on the confession? These unforgiveable details are the downfall of the film, not to mention the bizarre Plan 9 from Outer Space-like music used in certain scenes. What were they thinking?

At least one redeemable quality of the film is its cast. Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey had previously co-starred with one another in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt. Though their characters were not romantically linked in this film, it was delightful to see them together again especially since they worked so well with one another. Carey was a dreadfully underrated actor who was relegated to mostly working in B-pictures, later finding work as a critically acclaimed soap opera actor in the series Days of Our Lives. The most notable member of the supporting cast was character actor Jack Elam, a worthy actor who was often cast in villain roles due to his unconventional looks. Also worth mentioning is Adele Mara who played Elam’s on-screen wife, delivering one of the most offbeat performances of the film and appearing to be a poor man’s Gloria Grahame.

Teresa Wright

Teresa & Macdonald, 1943

Teresa received top billing for this film despite having significantly less screen time than Carey. Ellen Bradon is not one of her better roles but she did what she could with the material which could not have been easy considering she had very recently gotten a divorce from first husband Niven Busch after a ten-year marriage and two children together. As my Classic Film-loving friend Laura wrote in her review, “I did wish Wright didn’t have to spend so much of the film playing a single note, as the distraught wife, but that’s what the part required.”

It is hard to believe that Teresa was 34 going on 35 during the making of Count the Hours! because she still had very girlish looks. The 1950s were not the high point of her career but she always gave praiseworthy performances.

Trivia

  • This film was released in the UK under the title Every Minute Counts.
  • RKO purchased the completed film from Ben-Bo Productions after its projected release through United Artists fell through. (Source: The RKO Story by Richard B. Jewell with Veron Harbin, page 272)

 

This trailer is a lot more dramatic than the actual film but at least it is entertaining… enough. 🙂