PACIFIC BLACKOUT. Paramount Pictures, 1941. Robert Preston, Martha O’Driscoll, Philip Merrivale, Eva Gabor, Louis Jean Heydt, Thurston Hall, J. Edward Bromberg, Mary Treen, Monte Blue, Rod Cameron. Screenplay: Lester Cole & W. P. Lipscomb. Story by  Franz Spencer (Franz Schulz) & Curt Siodmak. Directed by Ralph Murphy.

   As Seattle prepares for its first city wide blackout of the pre-War era replete with the Army providing bombers to drop faux weapons, Robert Draper (Robert Preston), a young inventor who has been working on range finder for the Army, is on trial for murdering his partner, and it looks bad for him, what with French nightclub singer Marie Duval (Eva Gabor) swearing he is guilty, though he swears he never met her.

   John Runnel (Philip Merrivale), an expert on blackouts, is advising the city and a friend of Draper’s, but there is nothing he can do when Draper is convicted and sentenced to death (they move fast in B -movies).

   While being transferred to prison that night as the blackout begins, there is an accident and Draper escapes, and while trying to find a way out of his handcuffs, he meets Mary Jones (Martha O’Driscoll), who is walking her dog in the park.

   Mary is one of those screwball types you could only find in a movie of this era, and in short order she is helping Preston in his escape through a series of misadventures that fill up most of the movie a la a more urban 39 Steps (one of the most oft repeated plots in Hollywood history, even by Hitchcock).

   About midway through, the big secret regarding the villain is revealed, but it isn’t until right at the end we discover the McGuffin: saboteurs have substituted a real bomb for one of the phony ones to be dropped on Seattle by pilot Rod Cameron’s unsuspecting crew.

   To the extent this works its because of Preston and O’Driscoll, and a decent performance by a young Eva Gabor as the French girl whose testimony has been extorted by the unexpected German spy behind the whole thing. J. Edward Bomberg has a nice bit in a medical treatment shelter as a slight of hand artist turned pick pocket who helps Preston out in a tight.

   I’m curious if there ever was a blackout quite as extravagant as this one, but being on the West Coast and knowing Spielberg’s 1941 was loosely based on fact it is just in the realm of possibility (probably not with bombers dropping bags informing kids they have just been killed by poison gas).

   This is by turns screwball comedy, spy thriller, murder mystery, and patriotic flag waver, but makes so many sudden turns you may get a little dizzy trying to follow it. It never manages to all come together, but individual bits are worth seeing, and Preston is always good.