LONG NIGHT, THE
(director: Anatole Litvak; screenwriters: story by Jacques Viot/John Wexley; cinematographer: Sol Polito; editor: Robert Swink; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Henry Fonda (Joe Adams), Vincent Price (Maximilian), Barbara Bel Geddes (Jo Ann), Ann Dvorak (Charlene), Howard Freeman (Sheriff), Moroni Olsen (Chief of Police), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Blind Man); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert & Raymond Hakim/Anatole Litvak; RKO/Kino; 1947)
“Had the wonderful shimmering look of noir through cinematographer Sol Polito’s wonderful black-and-white photography, but its story is flat.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Kiev-born U.S. citizen Anatole Litvak (“Snake Pit”) directs this film noir based on a story by Jacques Viot and written by John Wexley. It’s an identical remake of Marcel Carne’s 1939 crime drama Le Jour se lève (Daybreak), but it concludes instead with a happy ending. Henry Fonda is miscast as the disillusioned returning WW11 soldier trying to adjust to civilian life but feeling let down that his girlfriend lied to him. Jean Gabin in a similar role made it richly powerful, while Fonda never convinces that he’s such a lost soul wallowing in self-pity. “Night” had the wonderful shimmering look of noir through cinematographer Sol Polito’s wonderful black-and-white photography, but its story is flat.
The film opens in a small steel town near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, where a banner is hung across main street saying “Welcome Home Servicemen.” From the dinghy Alleghany boarding house a shot is heard and a dead man tumbles out of the top floor apartment and slides down two flights of stairs and is dead when he hits the bottom, where a blind man (Elisha Cook, Jr.) returning home is standing. With the chief of police on another assignment, the sheriff is called and discovers that Joe Adams (Fonda) is holed up in the apartment and won’t come out as he fires at the police who knock on his door.
While a team of police surround his place and repeatedly riddle his apartment with gunfire, Fonda barricades himself in the apartment and goes in and out of flashback to recall what led him to kill the smarmy traveling nightclub magician Maximilian (Vincent Price). For the chain-smoking factory sandblaster his problems began when he met pretty teenager greenhouse worker Jo Ann (Barbara Bel Geddes) delivering flowers to someone in the factory, and learns she was also raised in the same orphanage. They soon start seeing each other and fall in love, but one night she cuts their date short by saying she has to go somewhere. He secretly follows her to Al King’s Jungle nightclub and learns she’s seeing the much older magician Maximilian. While at the bar Fonda’s picked up by the magician’s sexy assistant Charlene (Ann Dvorak), who tells him she just quit because Price is rotten and can’t be trusted. Fonda and her start seeing each other, even though he still loves Jo Ann but is disappointed she didn’t tell him about the magician. The story gets more involved when Price comes by one day to Charlene’s pad to tell Fonda that he is Jo Ann’s father and he doesn’t want such a person with a low paying job and bleak future seeing his daughter. The insecure Fonda learns later from Jo Ann that Price lied about being her father, but that she has been courted by Price long before she met him. Later Price’s explanation for why he lied is priceless: I have a “superior imagination.”
It all leads back to how the current situation arose. Price went to Fonda’s apartment to taunt and kill him, but instead Fonda angrily kills him with his own gun. When the chief of police returns and gets tear gas from a nearby city, Jo Ann rushes to the apartment to tell Fonda to peacefully surrender that she loves him and tries to save him from the trigger-happy police who would rather kill him than try to talk him into surrendering. All the melodramatics felt silly, and hardly necessary. I had an emotional disconnect from the love story, as it never materialized on the screen as something real.
Price is at his creepiest, and keeps the film alive with his hammy manic moves.
REVIEWED ON 2/29/2004 GRADE: C