The Long Night (1947)

In a small mill town on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania lives blind veteran Frank Dunlap (Elisha Cook Jr.). He’s able to get around town quite well since he grew up there. He knows every block, every step.

(Image via Noir of the Week)

(Image via Noir of the Week)

One day, as Frank is returning to his apartment, a wounded man tumbles down the stairs. Since he’s blind, Frank doesn’t know exactly what is going on and assumes that someone has simply tripped. He calls for help.

The police arrive at the scene, and they determine that the victim, magician Maximilian the Great (Vincent Price), must have been shot by Joe Adams (Henry Fonda), who lives in an apartment on the highest floor of the building. But Joe’s not quite willing to cooperate with the investigation. He reflects on the twisted path that led him here, as police close in.

The Long Night was directed by Anatole Litvak and is a remake of the 1939 French film Le jour se leve. This flick marked the big screen debut of Barbara Bel Geddes.

The year of 1947 has quickly become one of my favorites for film, and for film noir in particular. Last year, three of my favorite film discoveries were from 1947, and let’s not forget the stellar Out of the Past, one of many long-time favorites from 1947. I was excited to have the opportunity to watch The Long Night on WatchTCM in January. Though I’d heard nothing about it, hopes were high for several reasons: It’s noir, was released in 1947, and is told in flashbacks. On top of that, it features Henry Fonda, Elisha Cook Jr., and Vincent Price. It was also directed by the man behind Blues in the Night and Sorry, Wrong Number. A promising picture, to be sure.

Like its flashbacks within flashbacks, The Long Night tells a story with many layers. Explored are Joe’s past and the events leading up to Maximilian being shot; Joe’s relationship with Jo Ann (Geddes’ character); Maximilian’s life prior to the shooting, and his character; and a contrast between the public’s reaction to the police stand-off with Joe and the cops’ attitudes toward Joe, drawing forward questions about the “innocent until proven guilty” concept and police conduct.

(Image via Democratic Underground)

(Image via Democratic Underground)

All of this certainly keeps the viewer’s interest and gives a lot to think about. As for pace and mood, it’s a mixed bag. The story delivers a little bit of romance, a few scenes of high tension, and a whole lot of drama. The pace is somewhat slow, but steady.

Henry Fonda is great as usual, bringing appropriate measures of introspection and anger to the role, and I love the little reference to The Lady Eve (“The Ale that Won for Yale!” — an ad on the back of a theater program). Price is a total showboat as the ill-fated magician, which, like Fonda’s performance, is very appropriate for the role. Of the supports, I was particularly impressed by Ann Dvorak in the role of Charlene, Maximilian’s strong-willed, straight-talking former assistant.

In some ways, The Long Night reminds me of another Fonda film, You Only Live Once, though that film (released ten years earlier and featuring a very similar bullet-shattered mirror) is the superior of the two in my book. Still, The Long Night is a pretty good watch, with nicely-executed performances and a story that has a lot going on. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The score: 3.8/5

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