The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) is a comedy fantasy film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Jack Benny.
Its biggest claim to fame, apart from its star, is its failure at the box office. In the two decades following its release, Benny often exploited the film's failure for laughs in his popular radio and television comedy series The Jack Benny Program, making the film a well-known entity to his wide audience, even if they had never seen it. The Horn Blows At Midnight would prove to be Benny's final starring feature, although he would continue as a radio and TV star (as well as making cameo appearances in films) for years afterwards.
The Horn Blows At Midnight had the misfortune to be released only eight days after the death of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This may have contributed to its poor reception, although the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, also dealing with the afterlife, opened on Broadway at roughly the same time and became a hit.
Athanael (Jack Benny), the third trumpet player in the orchestra of a late night radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee (motto: "It's Heavenly"), falls asleep listening to the announcer, who is doing his best to prove it is "the coffee that makes you sleep." Athanael dreams he is an angel (junior grade) and a trumpeter in the orchestra of Heaven. Due to the praise of his girlfriend Elizabeth (Alexis Smith), the assistant of the deputy chief of the department of small planet management (Guy Kibbee), he is given the mission of destroying planet 339001 (Earth) and its troublesome inhabitants by blowing the "Last Trumpet" at exactly midnight, signaling the end of the world.
When he is deposited at the Hotel Universe via the building's elevator, he accidentally foils a robbery attempt by suave guest Archie Dexter (Reginald Gardiner) and his girlfriend accomplice, Fran Blackstone (Dolores Moran). Dexter blames Fran and breaks off their relationship. When Athanael prevents her attempt at suicide from the hotel's roof, he misses the deadline. Fortunately, Elizabeth persuades her boss to give him a second chance. She travels to Earth to inform him.
Complications arise when two fallen angels named Osidro (Allyn Joslyn) and Doremus (John Alexander), also guests at the hotel, recognize Athanael and learn of his assignment. They want to continue their pleasantly hedonistic life. While Athanael encounters trouble holding onto his trumpet by his inexperience with Earthly life, Osidro and Doremus hire Dexter to steal the instrument. Learning that Fran was rescued by Athanael, Dexter reconciles with her. Then, while she distracts the angel, Dexter's henchman Humphrey (Mike Mazurki), steals the trumpet.
Athanael, Elizabeth and her boss track the thieves to the roof. During a struggle, Athanael falls off the building, only to wake up from his dream.
Many of the actors play dual roles, in Heaven and on Earth.Jack Benny as Athanael
Alexis Smith as Elizabeth
Dolores Moran as Violinist / Fran Blackstone
Allyn Joslyn as Second Trumpeter / Osidro
Reginald Gardiner as Composer / Archie Dexter
Guy Kibbee as Radio Director / The Chief
John Alexander as First Trumpeter / Doremus
Franklin Pangborn as Radio Engineer / Sloan
Margaret Dumont as Mme. Traviata / Miss Rodholder
Robert Blake as Junior Pulplinsky (as Bobby Blake)
Ethel Griffies as Lady Stover, a hotel guest annoyed at the frequent disappearance of the elevator
Paul Harvey as Hotel Manager Thompson
Mike Mazurki as Bass Player / Humphrey Rafferty
Truman Bradley as Radio Announcer
The script was re-worked into an episode of radio's Ford Theater, broadcast March 4, 1949. Jack Benny reprised his character of Athanael, with Claude Rains now playing the Chief. This time the story was told in a straightforward fashion, with Benny actually playing an angel sent to Earth to blow the horn, as opposed to the dream scenario of the film. The radio story focuses on Athaniel's moral dilemma about whether or not the people of Earth, just suffering World War II, deserved to be extinguished with the Earth or given another chance.
A live television adaptation of the radio script was presented as a segment of Omnibus on November 29, 1953, with Benny again playing Athaniel, and Jeff Donnell as Elizabeth. In 2013 this version was issued on an exclusive DVD available to those who purchased The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes from distributor Shout Factory's website.
The 1945 movie itself was released on DVD by Warner Archives in November 2013.
In addition to Benny's jokes on the film, composer Franz Waxman reworked some of his music for the film in a comic Overture for Orchestra that he performed on occasion.