Saturday, March 8, 2014

Middle of the Night

The Essentials returns tonight, with Drew Barrymore sitting down with Robert Osborne for a third season of discussing movies that are apparently considered "essential" for a well-rounded film fan to have seen. Tonight's first essential is Marty at 8:00 PM, which leads off half a night of movies written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Delbert Mann. The second of them is Middle of the Night, at 9:$5 PM.

Fredric March stars as Jerry Kingsley, a widower who works in New York's garment industry by day, and goes home to a lovely apartment with his spinster sister Evelyn (Edith Meiser) by night. He's also got an adult daughter Marilyn (Lee Grant), but she's got a life of her own, married to Jack (Martin Balsom) with a kid on the way. Jerry had a good life, with the emphasis on had; now, he's a bit of a lonely old man.

Of course, you know that's going to change. Enter Betty Preisser (Kim Novak). She's a secretary working in the receiving office in the dingy ground level of the clothier that Kingsley and his business partner run. She's also a divorcée, having left the instability of her musician husband George (Lee Philips) and living with her mother, Torchy Blane. Well, actually, it's not Torchy Blane; it's Glenda Farrel playing a decidedly olded-up and less energetic woman than Torchy ever was. Now, you'd think that this nice woman would be just right for Jerry, but that's not what's going to happen. Betty gets sick and has to leave early, and when Jerry stops by her place to see how she's doing, the two feel a spark between them.

Or at least, they think they feel a spark between them. They're both lonely souls in need of a companion, so perhaps they might just be loving the one they're with rather than being with the one they'd truly love. They also recognize that other people are going to have uncomfortable questions about this new relationship. This was the 1950s, though, so the questions have nothing to do with a boss dating the secretary and any "sexual harassment" issues that might bring up. Instead, once everybody finds out about the relationship, the objections are that Jerry is too old for Betty, and besides, they're really of mismatched backgrounds. They need to find partners more compatible for themselves.

And so, everybody talks at each other about the relationship, or more like talking past each other, which is one of the places that for me the movie really starts to lose steam. The whole time I was watching the movie I felt like the two protagonists would be better off with companionship than love, so I didn't care too much about their relationship. I also couldn't bring myself to care that much about everybody around Jerry and Betty, who to me generally wound up seeming rather nondescript. It's a bit of a shame, since the acting by everybody is quite competent, and the production design is a very nice look at New York City as it was in the late 1950s. Ultimately, if I were going to recommend one of Chayefsky's movies from this period, I'd suggest Marty or The Catered Affair.

But, I'm blogging about Middle of the Night in part because I'm sure that there are other people who are going to like it despite my mixed review. That, and the fact that it seems to be out of print on DVD.

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