10 May 2008 | blanche-2
Partially successful noir
Henry Fonda goes through "The Long Night" after committing murder in this 1947 film noir directed by Anatole Litvak and also starring Vincent Price, Ann Dvorak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Fonda plays Joe, a returning veteran, now a blue collar worker who falls in love with young, pretty fellow orphan Jo Ann (Bel Geddes), only to come up against Price. Price plays Maximilian, a creepy magician with a show that features dogs and Charlene (Ann Dvorak). At first, Maximilian asks Joe to stay away from Charlene because she's his long-lost daughter and he wants better for her. From Charlene, Joe learns the truth - Maximilian is not her father, and she's attracted to his worldliness - though she claims to love Joe. Depressed, he turns to the sexy Charlene, his heart still with Jo Ann. During a fight in his apartment, he shoots Maximilian, and spends the entire movie under siege in his apartment as he relives in flashback and flashback within flashback what led him to this moment.
Litvak, a talented director, stages this film in an interesting manner - it begins with a blind man (Elisha Cook Jr.) stumbling across the body of Maximilian in the hallway of the apartment building where he lives. Joe will not leave his room, and the police work throughout the film to get him out. The photography and direction capture the darkness and drabness of Joe's surroundings, the cheapness of the nightclub where Maximilian performs, and focuses a harsh light on Charlene's room and Charlene herself.
Despite all of this great style, the film has a cheesy quality; the characters aren't really likable except for poor Joe; and the motivations of the characters aren't fully fleshed out, so the story ultimately doesn't make it. The acting is very good - Fonda shows us some still waters that run pretty deep in an excellently crafted performance. He's sexy as all get-out, too, when he lays down on Charlene's bed and smiles. Dvorak does a great job as a brittle Charlene, and Price is a complete sleazebag as the cruel Maximilian. Bel Geddes is incredibly young - this is her first film, and though she was 24 or 25, she looks and acts about 18, which is appropriate for this small-town, inexperienced girl.
"The Long Night" has some interesting elements, but because of a spotty script, we're not invested enough in the film for it to be really intriguing or exciting.