The Horn Blows at Midnight
Jack Benny got a lot of mileage out of this perceived cinematic failure on his radio and television series. Listen to just about any episode after this movie was released and you’ll likely hear Benny or one of his ensemble quip about its failure (or perceived failure). It’s referenced enough in the shows to make me curious to want to seek it out and see if it’s really as bad as everyone says it is. I have vague memories of seeing it on VHS years ago and thinking it wasn’t nearly as terrible as Benny and his cast made it out to be. But I couldn’t be sure so when it recently came in TCM’s rotation of films, I decided to give The Horn Blows at Midnight a second look.
And while it’s certainly no cinematic masterpiece, I think it’s a movie that isn’t nearly as terrible as it was made out to be on Benny’s programs. But it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece either. I feel like it’s in a similar vein as It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie that audiences weren’t quite ready to embrace in its initial release.
Like The Wizard of Oz, it’s a frame story with Benny’s character dreaming most of the movie’s main story. The framing device is that Benny is a trumpet player in a late night orchestra who is lulled to sleep by the announcer’s soothing voice and text about how a certain brand of coffee can lull you off to sleep. In the framing device, we see all the players who will come into the story during Benny’s dream sequence. In his dream, Benny is a junior grade angel named Athanael who plays a trumpet in the heavenly orchestra. His girlfriend pulls a few strings to get Benny the assignment to come to Earth and blow his horn at midnight, signaling the end of the world. Benny has to meet the deadline or else risk becoming a fallen angel and spending all of eternity somewhere less pleasant. Continue reading