An early effort from director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy and The Big Combo) So Dark the Night is a quintessential b-movie filmed in 3 weeks on a studio back-lot for less than 200 grand. A psycho-melodrama if you will that explores the split personality as psychosis with the alien-self as doppelgänger. The movie is of interest not so much for the premise or the plot, but as a showcase for how routine material can be made exceptional by a talented director. Lewis had a French village convincingly manufactured on an old studio set. He even managed to send a camera to Paris to film some ‘scenic’ shots for the opening credits. Revealing the major story elements risks giving too much away. What I can say is that the plot concerns a famed Paris bachelor-detective who confronts love and mayhem in a small rural village after he is sent there on r&r. While the lead role would have worked nicely for Peter Lorre, ex-pat Austro/Hungarian character actor Steven Geray actor does try hard as the love-lorne detective.
Lewis uses windows and mirrors to excellent effect in his mise-en-scène, and elegant camera angles and staging to render compositions that create visual interest throughout. Indeed, the whole affair could have played as a silent movie while retaining the suitably melodramatic score from Hugo Friedhofer. This is both a strength and a weakness. The fascination a young woman feels for the Parisian glamour symbolically evoked by close-ups of the shining chrome on an automobile, and expressive close-ups on faces, work well. But certain pivotal scenes featuring rather forced averted gazes come across as hackneyed.
Of historical interest mainly.
3 thoughts on “So Dark the Night (1946): The Split Personality”
The very notion of routine material being transformed by the direction and visual imagination was the established terrain of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur, though Robert Siodmak took the cake with some moody atmospheric in THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, which had the most ordinary and predictable of all thrillers. Lewis’ use of mirrors and angles to create psychological disorientation and a different level of interpretation. The split personality deceit of course dates back to the silent version of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, but has more recently been employed in an exploitative way in the psycho dramas that have polluted our screens. Of course Tony Perkins took the split personality to a new level in Hitch’s PSYCHO. Considering Lewis was so prominent in the artistic success of GUN CRAZY and THE BIG COMBO, it isn’t a surprise he turned the trick earlier on in his career.
This is a terrific piece with a new angle under exploration.
Hey Sam, quite an essay! I am with you on THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. Thanks as always.
Does anyone know the name of the French song that the lovely actress Micheline Cheirel sings in this movie ?