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Five Miles to Midnight

Five Miles to Midnight(1963)

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teaser Five Miles to Midnight (1963)

In the minds of some moviegoers Anthony Perkins will always be equated with Norman Bates, the creepy motel owner of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Yet people seem to forget that for a ten-year period between 1956 and 1966 he was one of the most in-demand actors in the world. He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his first major screen role in Friendly Persuasion [1956] and he was often paired with some of the most glamorous and desirable actresses in the profession such as Audrey Hepburn (Green Mansions, 1959), Jane Fonda (Tall Story, 1960), Ingrid Bergman (Goodbye Again, 1961), Melina Mercouri (Phaedra, 1962), Brigitte Bardot (Une ravissante idiote, 1964) and Sophia Loren, with whom he made two films.

The unlikely pairing of the voluptuous Loren and the gawky, hypersensitive Perkins would seem ideal for a sex farce but instead the duo starred in two overheated melodramas. The first was Desire Under the Elms [1958], an uneven adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's stage play, with Loren miscast as the young bride of a wealthy farmer (Burl Ives) who begins an illicit affair with his son (Perkins). Their second film together, the suspense thriller Five Miles to Midnight (1962), was not a critical or commercial success either but it did more effectively showcase the two superstars' unique appeal. The director, Anatole Litvak, stated (in Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins by Charles Winecoff) "I was interested in the contrasting personalities of the two. Sophia is outgoing, serene, and cheerful. She has to play the role of a girl from a humble home in Naples who is making good in the sophisticated world of the Paris fashion houses. Well, Sophia knew poverty as a child in Naples and she is certainly a success in the sophisticated world of international picture making. Tony has a gentle boyish quality, which also contains the seeds of violence. I am trying to blend the gentle young man I directed in Goodbye Again with the dangerous quality he revealed in Psycho."

Five Miles to Midnight falls into that subgenre, "the insurance fraud film," and bears some striking similarities to The Running Man with Lee Remick and Laurence Harvey that was released the following year. The film wastes no time in establishing the volatile relationship of Robert Macklin (Perkins) and his wife Lisa (Loren) which erupts in an angry separation after an incident in a Parisian nightclub. Robert immediately departs on a business trip and is reported killed that same evening in a plane crash that leaves no survivors. No wonder Lisa is shocked when a disheveled Robert turns up revealing he escaped from the plane unharmed. He also confesses he took out a $120,000 life insurance policy at the airport prior to boarding and pressures Lisa to hide him in their apartment until she can collect the money with the understanding that he'll disappear from her life after the insurance check arrives. Although Lisa reluctantly agrees, the insanely jealous and increasingly paranoid Robert makes her life a living hell, which is complicated by her new friendship with David Barnes (Gig Young), an American businessman.

For Loren, Five Miles to Midnight offered her the opportunity to work with director Litvak who had helped guide numerous actresses through some of their greatest roles such as Barbara Stanwyck (Sorry, Wrong Number), Olivia de Havilland (The Snake Pit), Bette Davis (All This and Heaven Too) and Ingrid Bergman who won the Best Actress Oscar® for Anastasia. Loren was also fond of her co-star Perkins and enjoyed teasing him on the set though Perkins had mixed feelings about their screen chemistry together. He told one reporter that while making Five Miles to Midnight "I felt like Charlton Heston trying to play opposite the Burning Bush in The Ten Commandments. When there's a Burning Bush on the screen no one is going to look at me." In another interview, he joked "I've got to do something drastic about my inability to age. Sophia just seems more grown up, more adult. I'm still asked for an ID card when I go to a bar. I don't think they'd ask for hers." Even Loren remarked on the incongruity of their casting, saying "When I play opposite Tony, he makes me look like his mother, even though I'm younger than he is."

Off the set, Perkins and Loren rarely socialized but the actress did enjoy a close relationship with her co-star Gig Young who had recently left his wife, actress Elizabeth Montgomery. "Gig was immediately smitten with Sophia, who seemed to return the feelings," Young's biographer, George Eells, recalled. "They made the rounds of Paris together and had a bittersweet parting when the filming ended. Later, when Gig was back in California, he tried phoning Sophia in Rome through an intermediary in case Carlo Ponti answered the phone, but she kept hanging up. He finally go the message and that was the end of it. He never saw or spoke to her again." (from Sophia: A Biography by Warren G. Harris).

While the final scenes were being shot for Five Miles to Midnight, director Litvak fell from a ten-foot platform and suffered a concussion but was quickly treated and released from the hospital at Neuilly, one of the film's French locations. Litvak was reaching the end of his career - he would only direct two more films - and Five Miles to Midnight was not one of his more memorable efforts. By the time the film reached the screen, it had gone through several title changes - The Fourth Dimension, All the Gold in the World, Deadlock - and in France it was released as Le Couteau dans la plaie. Despite the popularity of Loren and Perkins, the film was not well received. The Hollywood Reporter deemed the film "Unbelievable and uninteresting," adding that "Perkins, who is supposed to be terrifying, succeeds only in being tiresome." Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, however, focused on Sophia: "Loren is given very little opportunity to display her acknowledged talent for acting in Anatole Litvak's new is rather contrived and far-fetched...There is also a rather grisly climax that Miss Loren plays with widely staring eyes. But it is all a bit fraudulent and tedious."

Yet, despite the film's undistinguished reputation, Five Miles to Midnight has a certain curiosity value due its unusual pairing of Perkins and Loren. It is also given a touch of class by its Parisian locations, the handsome set design by Alexander Trauner and the atmospheric music score by Mikis Theodorakis.

Producer: Anatole Litvak, Louis Wipf
Director: Anatole Litvak
Screenplay: Maurice Druon, Andre Versini, Peter Viertel, Hugh Wheeler
Cinematography: Henri Alekan
Film Editing: Bert Bates
Art Direction: Alexandre Trauner
Music: Jacques Loussier, Mikis Theodorakis
Cast: Sophia Loren (Lisa Macklin), Anthony Perkins (Robert Macklin), Gig Young (David Barnes), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Alan Stewart), Yolande Turner (Barbara Ford), Tommy Norden (Johnny).

by Jeff Stafford

SOURCES:Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins by Charles Winecoff
Sophia: A Biography by Warren G. Harris
Final Gig: The Man Behind the Murder by George Eells

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