One Thrilling Night (1942) was William Beaudine’s first movie at Monogram, a very light and silly comedy-mystery about young newlyweds (John Beal and Wanda McKay) checking in to a hotel for one night before Beal joins the Army. Their room becomes Grand Central Station for gangsters, who are in and out all night looking for the $50,000 hidden by one of their own (Pierce Lyden).
The hijinks begin when Beal gets into bed with an unconscious Lyden, and runs to fetch the house detective (Warren Hymer), who enters the room just after the gangsters have hidden Lyden in the steamer trunk. This missing body routine repeats a few times, with the lawman predictably thinking he’s being pranked by a partying couple. Then the gangsters nab Beal and take him to their notorious boss (a baby-faced Tom Neal) and his mob (including Barbara Pepper), who are convinced Beal is a gangster who has their money. The police (including J. Farrell MacDonald) shrug off the most obvious clues and unanswered questions, think Beal is crazy or guilty, demand explanations of him when he’s bound and gagged, and arrest him for indecent exposure when he escapes the mob in his pajamas. They’re slow as molasses but good natured, and thank goodness they finally get the drift when Beal can name the criminals.
This type of comedy depends on a lot of dense characters, bad timing and silly misunderstandings, and the humour is on the level of listening to your 6 year-old’s best jokes for an hour; mostly clean, sweet and good for chuckles, with some slapstick thrown in. “Sergeant, you should have brought your lie detector./ I couldn’t, she’s washing the dishes.” Neal is a gangster “so tough if he sat in the electric chair, he’d blow out the fuse.” In one bit, Beal and McKay duck into a movie theater thinking the dark will hide them from Neal and gang. Of course it happens to be prize night and so the lights flip on and guess who’s holding the winning number and sitting next to a loud and nosy woman who makes sure they don’t pass up that nice sterling silver coffee set.
The couple is so adorably awkward they think they’re surprising people by revealing they just got married, and spend a lot of time figuring out what to do on their wedding night. Way past his usual bedtime of 9pm, Beal is tired and McKay doesn’t want to him to spend money taking her out to the clubs. By the time the plot gets all sorted out and they’ve settled on an activity, the phone rings with Beal’s wake up call. That corniness is very cute and amusing, and Beal especially wrings the most out of his naive straight man role. He’s so virtuous that he can hardly bring himself to tell McKay of his criminal past–that one time he stole apples from an orchard. His wholesome disapproval of all this big city naughtiness they’ve walked into, his scolding of the thugs over all the inconvenience they’re causing him, and his dead literal understanding of gangster slang make up most of the humour, and it works thanks to Beal’s comical impatience and sincerity and Neal’s perplexed reactions. When Neal says he’s going to “turn up the heat,” Beal appreciates that, since he’s getting cold in his pajamas. When Neal threatens “I’m going to let you have it!,” Beal says, “I don’t want it!” in a way that sounds totally original. At some point it all becomes as self-aware as it is silly, with characters comparing each other to Eddie Robinson and Basil Rathbone, and the rural couple sorting out these crazy escapees from a gangster movie. Light and goofy amusement.