One Crowded Night (1940)
Should be re-titled “One Coincidence After Another!” Never have I seen a film with so many improbable coincidences one after the other until I threw up my hands in disgust. If this was a comedy it might actually have been funny. Anne Revere and Paul Guilfoyle were the only names I recognized before I watched the film though I also recognized J.M. Kerrigan when I did. Directed by Irving Reis with a screenplay by Richard Collins and Arnaud d’Usseau that was based on a story by Ben Holmes.
The Matthews family runs a motel/gas station/diner stop somewhere in the desert on the way to San Diego from parts East. They had to leave their home Duluth because of a scandal 4 years earlier when Jim Andrews (Guilfoyle) was accused of being part of an armed robbery. Though he maintained that he was forced to drive the getaway car by a couple of gangsters he was found guilty and sent to prison. Ma & Pa Matthews have two daughters played by Ms. Revere and Gale Storm as Annie and another employee Gladys (Billie Steward who received top billing). Ms. Revere’s character is also Jim Andrews (Guilfoyle’s) wife and between them they have a 6 year old (?) son Bobby.
A bus full of people on its way to San Diego stops at the diner and we learn that Annie and Gladys pretty much hate where they work. A woman Ruth Matson (Pamela Blake) who arrived on the bus faints and must stay at the motel. Turns out she is traveling to San Diego to be with her husband (though he doesn’t know it) who’s a sailor that’s been reassigned from Pensacola. We also meet Gladys’ fiance Joe Miller (William Haade) who’s a truck driver that’s been promising to take her away from all this once he owns his truck. That day is today what a coincidence!
J.M. Kerrigan who plays an elixir salesman blows a tire as he’s driving past the motel says it must be “kismet” and decides to stay. Later we find out that he used to be a doctor before he started drinking which is very convenient since it turns out that Ms. Matson fainted because she was pregnant. A telegram is delivered to Revere which indicates that Guilfoyle is soon to be paroled but of course Guilfoyle then shows up having escaped from prison. Soon two undercover policemen with a sailor incognito check into the motel. They’re returning the sailor to San Diego because he went AWOL when he couldn’t reach his pregnant wife in Pensacola on the phone. That’s right another coincidence.
*** SPOILERS ***
But wait there’s more. The next people to check into the motel are a couple of gangsters who happen to be the same ones that forced Guilfoyle to drive their getaway car. The last coincidence I think is when we find out that Gladys used to be a moll and is acquainted with one of the gangsters. There is a small subplot of cliches involving Annie who’s not interested in the local boy but is interested in one of the gangsters when he regales her with tales of his travels. Care to guess who helps catch this gangster during the shoot-out & conclusion which ties up all the loose ends?