Thursday, March 16, 2023

The night of length

One more movie that was sitting on my DVR for a long time is one that I'd seen part of many years before, but had never gotten around to seeing all of: The Long Night.

I knew the basic story of The Long Night, as I knew it was a remake of a French movie called Le jour se lève, also known as Daybreak. I've seen that one ages ago but never done a post on it. Anyhow, The Long Night starts, as a lot of noirs do, in the present day, in the top floor of an apartment building. Suddenly, we hear a man get shot and fall down the stairs, quite dead! It's obvious where the shooting occurred and that whoever is in the top floor apartment must have done it, so the police surround the place, hoping that the person in that apartment won't jump to his death or force them to shoot him.

That man is Joe Adams (Henry Fonda), a working man of modest means in a small industrial town about halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland back in the days when the midwest was a more important part of the country than it is today now that these are all Rust Belt places. Joe has always been sensitive about his lot in life, largely because he was an orphan. But as with a lot of noirs, flash back to get the rest of the story....

One day, in a flower shop, Joe runs into a nice woman called Jo Ann (Barbara Bel Geddes). They strike up a conversation, and find out that they were both in the same orphanage! Joe has a connection with somebody know, and he begins to fall in love with her. But it's not going to be an easy relationship, in no small part because of Jo Ann's personal life. One night, at a local club, Joe sees Jo Ann go in, and he goes in as well, where a magician named Maximilian the great (Vincent Price) is performing.

And this is where things begin to get really complicated. Max is clearly a rival with Joe for Jo Ann's affections. But it's also intimated that they may have some other familial relationship! Meanwhile, Max has a former girlfriend Charlene (Ann Dvorak) who was also Max's partner in the stage show before their breakup. Charlene serves more or less as the Greek chorus to this tragedy, playing the voice of conscience and revealing an important plot or two.

But because the movie is told in flashback, we can pretty much guess where it's going to end up, although the question is exactly how it's going to get there. It's a story that's told about as well as one can, given the fact that it's a Hollywood movie that's working within the strictures of the Production Code. As I've said, it's been ages since I've seen the French original, but it was able to be more open about the themes explored. (Wikipedia also claims that a restored version put on DVD after I saw the unrestored movie has French actress Arletty naked in a scene. Hollywood obviously could never do that in those days.)

The acting is also about as good as you can expect; Vincent Price makes a suitable villain, or as much of a villain as you're going to get since a lot of this is the fault of Joe's naivete. Fonda as Joe was always capable of playing characters with an inner darkness although I think he might be at his best when he plays characters who are more the moral conscience. If there's a weakness, it's that Jo Ann isn't fleshed out enough to give the viewer a reason why there would be such a romantic rivalry for her. But then, in a small town, sometimes such things just happen with the nice girl.

All in all, The Long Night is a good enough film, although there are certainly better noirs and better movies in each of the stars' filmographies.

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