Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Long Night (1947)

Director: Anatole Litvak                                  Writer: Jacques Viot & John Wexley
Film Score: Dimitri Tiomkin                              Cinematography: Sol Polito
Starring: Henry Fonda, Barbara Bel Geddes, Vincent Price and Ann Dvorak

Henry Fonda makes an unlikely noir protagonist, even taking into account his role in The Grapes of Wrath, but he makes it work here. The Long Night begins with the shooting of Vincent Price. After Price falls down the stairs, dead, the police come looking for his killer: returning World War II veteran Fonda who won’t let them into his room and won’t surrender. The story has an odd construction, even for a noir film. While Fonda is trapped in his room on the third floor of an apartment building, he thinks back over the last month in flashback, sometimes one inside of another. Instead of a confession or a letter, the usual noir conventions, he simply remembers to himself during the long night.

Fonda falls in love with a local girl, Barbara Bel Geddes, and wants to marry her. But she has some secret she’s hiding, and one night he follows her to a seedy nightspot where she’s watching a magic show performed by Vincent Price. Ann Dvorak has just quit his show and strikes up a friendship with Fonda. Later, Price tells Fonda that Bel Geddes is his daughter. When Fonda asks her, however, she says it’s not true, that Price has been pursuing her and wants to marry her as well. Price, with his Bride of Frankenstein whitewalled hair, looks positively strange. What’s even stranger is that Bel Geddes is actually considering his proposal seriously. But she does offer to stop seeing him when Fonda bares his heart, and so it would seem that’s all there would be to it. But there’s more . . .

The film is a remake of the French classic Le Jour se Lève, starring Jean Gabin and Arletty, but the American version comes off a little strange, almost not really a noir at all, especially considering the happy ending. Still, Anatole Litvak does a workman-like job. No really interesting camera angles, but that’s probably because he was copying the French version more than attempting to reimagine it. Behind the camera is Sol Polito who had a long and distinguished career as a cinematographer. As far as the production design, Frenchman Eugène Lourié does a nice job emulating the original, and with the bigger budget and access to more resources it looks darker and richer as well.

Fonda, as the wronged veteran, is actually just right for the part. As bullets are whizzing through his room he doesn’t even flinch. He’s seen worse. He just sits in his bed smoking cigarettes and remembering how he got there. I was not too hopeful about Bel Geddes going in, but she winds up doing a great job. Price looks as if he’s gearing up for his career in horror films and even in the context of the film it seems a little over the top. There are also some nice character parts. Elisha Cook, Jr. has a small turn as a blind man, and Davis Roberts and the great Ellen Corby have bit parts in the crowd scenes. It’s not a great film, though it might have been had they kept the original ending, but The Long Night has some good performances and makes for an interesting viewing.

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