When the Clock Strikes (1961) – a well-written crime movie

After helping to convict a certain bad seed by the name of Frankie Pierce, of murder, Sam Morgan (James Brown—no, the other one) is feeling guilty because his evidence has been twisted by the prosecution, making it look as though he alone is responsible for the death sentence, which he felt was unsafe. Sam is an honest man, and he has regret. His identification was not certain, and he said so. But they’re hanging the man on his testimony. So, he races through a blinding storm to the prison where Pierce is scheduled to be executed at midnight.

En route, he picks up a young glamorous blonde, Ellie (Merry Anders), hitching a lift, out in the wilds, in the middle of a violent storm, with her car broken down and heading in the opposite direction. Sam drives her to a small roadhouse, near the state prison. When he is unable to stop the execution, Sam returns to the lodge and joins Ellie for a drink. As the hour of execution nears, the blonde announces herself as Frank Pierce’s wife.

It’s a dark and stormy night at a secluded Lodge in the middle of nowhere and at midnight, a man named Martinez (Jorge Moreno) rushes into the lodge and confesses to the crime for which Pierce has been condemned to death.

The next day, after Martinez has been taken into custody by the police, Sam and Ellie go through the last of Pierce’s belongings and find a key to a post office box in New Mexico. Certain the box contains money Pierce had stolen 2 years before, they decide to have the money sent to the lodge and divide it.

Then, suddenly, the real Mrs. Pierce (Peggy Stewart) arrives at the lodge and announces that Frank Pierce had murdered her father. Meanwhile, the lodge owner, Cady (Henry Corden), has also learned about the money, and he makes plans to obtain it for himself. But as he tries to shoot Sam, Mrs. Pierce sees him and he is forced to kill her. Sam and Ellie are about to leave when the money arrives. Cady warns them that if they take it, he will inform the sheriff that Sam killed Mrs. Pierce. Realizing that he must tell the truth, good-scout Sam calls the police and has Cady arrested for murder.

A 1961 gangster B-movie directed by Edward L. Cahn, produced by Robert E. Kent, written by Dallas Gaultois, cinematography by Kenneth Peach, starring James Brown, Merry Anders, Henry Corden, Roy Barcroft, Peggy Stewart, Francis De Sales, Jorge Moreno, and Jack Kenney.

James Brown was Rusty’s virtuous role model, Ripley Masters, in the American western ABC-TV series “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” (1954-59). A character he essentially replicated here. After the series ended in 1959 Brown guest-starred in television programs including “Gunsmoke”, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”, “Lassie” (3 episodes), “The Virginian”, “Laramie”, “Route 66”, “Barbary Coast”, “Daniel Boone”, “Bronco”, “Honey West” and “Murder, She Wrote.” From 1979 to 1986 Brown played the recurring role of “Detective Harry McSween” in “Dallas.” In the mid-1960s Brown left acting to found a company making weight belts, eventually selling the company to Faberge.

Edward L Cahn was an American film director and editor best known for directing “Our Gang” comedies from 1939 to 1943, and a long line of other short subjects and B-movies afterward. He is also known for directing “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” (1958), the film that inspired “Alien” (1979). He made a number of films for American International Pictures. His brother was film editor Philip Cahn.

Robert E. Kent was an American film writer and film producer. He began as a rapid screenwriter for Sam Katzman at Columbia. For seven years he worked as a writer and story editor at Columbia. He then became a producer for Edward Small. He used the pseudonym James B. Gordon for some of his work. He later formed his own production company, Admiral Productions, together with Grant Whytock and Edward Small. Admiral produced two horror films with Vincent Price and four Westerns with Audie Murphy.

Kent and Cahn made many low budget B-movies together in the later 1950s and early 1960s. This one is good, surprisingly moody, and does a pretty good job of covering the plot implausibilities with interesting characters. It even takes on an issue of the day — capital punishment.

A well written thriller that has everything you need: stormy weather, a stranded beautiful girl lost in it with her car broken down, a confusion of identities, a murder case leaving some doubts and the chief witness with a bad conscience, an atmospherical inn on the roadside, the drama of the execution going on out of reach of those involved, a traffic incident with trees blocking the road, there is a villain and a lot of money involved, some fights, some gunfire, and the stormy weather just going on and on … with twists and turns in the plot that keep things surprising. The movie holds your attention in a very intriguing way with its genuineness at being nothing more or nothing less than a good old B-movie mystery. What more could you ask for?


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