Autopia Court offers a quiet, secluded place for motorists passing through California’s desert lands to stop for a rest, but it’s no fancy resort.
The place is run by Mae (Ann Revere), whose son Bobby (Casey Johnson), sister Annie (Gale Storm), and parents (Emma Dunn and George Watts) also live at the camp. Though they offer a few cottages for rental, they make most of the little money they earn selling quick meals and gas to buses and travelers, with the help of Gladys (Billie Seward).
When the daily bus passes through one hot summer day, passenger Ruth (Adele Pearce) passes out and is left at Autopia to recover. She’s pregnant, and was on her way to San Diego when fainting floundered her plans. Also arriving at the Court are Doc Joseph (J. M. Kerrigan), a scheming medicine-peddler; Ruth’s sailor husband Frank (Charles Lang), who deserted his base to find her; and, much to everyone’s surprise, Jim (Paul Guilfoyle), Mae’s husband who had been locked up in Duluth for a bank robbery gone wrong.
Tensions rise as all of Autopia Court’s permanent and temporary occupants deal with their personal problems.
Irving Reis directs 1940’s One Crowded Night. The screenplay was written by Richard Collins and Arnaud d’Usseau, from a story by Ben Holmes.
One Crowded Night packs a lot of characters and even more complication into its brief run time — 66 minutes, to be precise. Brought together by coincidence, the travelers and staff of Autopia find themselves facing some of the most important moments of their lives, all on the same night… and uncovering unusual connections between them all.
The cast is filled with lesser-known players but they all do their jobs well. I particularly enjoyed the work of Billie Seward. None of the film’s characters are thoroughly fleshed out, but Billie is given (in my opinion) the most interesting of the bunch — a woman who is loyal to the family due to the simple but safe life she’s been able to build with them, but also a woman who is harboring a secret past. Seward makes the character easy to root for, and she comes to play a very important part in the story.
To believe that so much could actually happen in this one secluded place, to so many people, at this one little blip of a moment within their lives, requires a pretty big stretch of the imagination.
But if your imagination does happen to be made of elastic, the film makes for an interesting watch. It has a touch of romance, some very tense criminal activity, and family drama. The film is at its strongest when it focuses on intimidating gangsters and gunfights, offering up a gripping though not-quite-fully-realized tale of the lengths evil men will go to in order to keep from paying for their crimes.
In a fashion similar to that which brings all of these characters together, the film’s conflicts are all wrapped up a bit too cleanly in the end. The bad guys lose, the good guys win, and life goes on. Still, though not very realistic and not very deep, One Crowded Night is an a-okay watch.