Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Night Editor (1946)

Director: Henry Levin                                      Writer: Harold Jacob Smith
Film Score: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco        Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Starring: William Gargan, Janis Carter, Jeff Donnell and Coulter Irwin

Night Editor had an interesting genesis. The story itself came from an episode of a radio drama of the same name called “Inside Story” by Scott Littleton. The radio program was a popular one, a drama series hosted by Hal Burdick which ran from 1934 until 1948. Columbia purchased the rights to the show and was planning on doing their own series of films under the Night Editor banner, something along the lines of the Inner Sanctum series over at Universal. Ultimately, however, this was the only picture the studio ever made under that title. But the series was revived briefly for television in 1954 and Burdick was brought back as the host of that show as well. The film starred Charles D. Brown as the editor of the frame story telling interesting tales of items that had appeared in the paper. In the radio program the stories had run the gamut from crime to war to adventure to the occasional supernatural story. This one is a classic film noir, with a B-list cast and what appears to be a lightning fast shooting schedule. Even so, it is a crisp black and white print that looks great and delivers a corny but enjoyable story of deception and redemption.

The story is set in New York City as Coulter Irwin walks glumly into the offices of the New York Star, the weather approaching ninety. Night editor Charles D. Brown is holding a poker game and tells the other men that Irwin has made some real mistakes in his life. And that reminds Brown of a police lieutenant, William Gargan, who made some equally bad decisions and tells the other men his story in flashback. Gargan works overtime as a homicide detective and feels guilty about not spending more time with his wife, Jeff Donnell, and his son, Michael Chapin. But the reason he’s gone so much is that he’s having an affair with the rich Janis Carter. One night, when they’re out together at the ocean, the two of them see another couple pull in and suddenly the man beats the woman to death in the front seat. Gargan flashes his lights and the man runs. Gargan gives chase but just as he’s about to shoot, Carter stops him by saying their affair will be exposed. So he goes home and the next morning the body is discovered. Like the film The Big Clock, he is now part of an investigation that he realizes he is implicated in when he discovers his own tire tracks at the scene of the crime.

But things get even more complicated when he learns that Carter knew the murdered girl and hated her, and engineered Gargan into being her silent alibi. This was one of Henry Levin’s early films--his first was the wildly bizarre but entertaining Cry of the Werewolf--and he would go on to bigger and better things in the fifties and sixties. He does a decent job of working within the low-budget constraints of a Columbia programmer, creating some fairly convincing exteriors in the studio, the only actual exterior being the scene at the beach the day after the victim’s death. Shot selection is pretty basic, however, giving the impression of a television program. There’s also nothing special about the cast. Gargan plays the sucker as an oaf who doesn’t generate a lot of sympathy, overly angry with his wife and utterly duped by Janis Carter’s femme fatale. The only recognizable stars in the film are Charles D. Brown as the editor, and Anthony Caruso as a reporter assigned to the homicide squad. And Paul E. Burns plays an ethnic Scandinavian detective who tries to look out for Gargan. For a noir film, the ending is beautiful, but the coda on the end undoes it all. Still, Night Editor is a watchable noir on the level of the television dramas that would appear a decade later.

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