29 August 2008 | jimddddd
Too stage bound!
As someone who knew John Barrymore Jr. 25 years ago, I was heartbroken to see him early in his aborted film career. Though not as charismatic as James Dean would be just a couple of years later, he was certainly Dean's prototype in The Big Night. Perhaps with a better film and a less disturbed personality, Barrymore might have been a working Hollywood actor for many years to come. Anyway, what director Joseph Losey lacked here was the Los Angeles cityscape he used to full effect that same year in his retelling of Fritz Lang's M. The Big Night was screaming for a location project on downtown L.A.'s seedy, beaten down Bunker Hill, a neighborhood of crumbling Victorian mansions and apartment buildings with vertiginous stairways that provided so much atmosphere to other films, such as Kiss Me Deadly, Criss-Cross, The Exiles and, yes, M. Instead, the movie is stage bound and hemmed in by sets that never look convincing. With its rambling "a night in the life" plot line, The Big Night needed another character: a dark city of real streets, background lights, rambling old house, and dingy clubs and bars. In other words, the kind of verisimilitude that transports the viewer into the protagonist's world. The back lot, unfortunately, was a poor stand-in.