Cast & Crew
Barbara Bel Geddes
In an Ohio mill town, blind veteran Frank Dunlap is walking up to his tenement apartment when a wounded man tumbles down the stairs and dies at his feet. Soon after arriving on the scene, the police deduce that the man, Maximilian, must have been shot on the top floor, in a room occupied by Joe Adams. When they try to question Joe, however, he fires a shot through his door and refuses to talk. Ned Meade, a no-nonsense sheriff, orders his men to position themselves in a hotel room directly across the street so that they can shoot at Joe from the window. As the police open fire, Joe falls to the floor and begins to recall the events that led him to commit murder: One day, while working as a sandblaster, Joe, a recently discharged veteran, meets Jo Ann, a sweet young woman from a flower shop. Joe flirts with Jo Ann and learns that she grew up in the same orphanage as he and now lives with her foster parents. Joe begins dating Jo Ann, with whom he feels a close bond, and three weeks later, deeply in love, proposes to her. Jo Ann is unsure about her feelings for Joe, however, and declines to give him an answer. Suspicious, Joe follows her to a nightclub, where magician Maximilian the Great is performing with his dog act. As an entranced Jo Ann watches Max from her table, Joe strikes up a conversation at the bar with Charlene, who has just quit her job as Max's assistant. After the embittered, jealous Charlene tells Joe that Max is a sadistic fraud, the middle-aged Max joins Jo Ann at her table. Back in the present, at Joe's mobbed apartment building, Bill Pulanski, Joe's next-door neighbor, begs for a chance to talk to Joe, but the sheriff refuses. Charlene, too, asks to speak with Joe, but is forcibly kept away. The sheriff's men then shoot through Joe's door lock, but Joe blocks the door with his dresser before they can enter. After the sheriff orders that tear gas be brought in, Joe returns to his recollections: Joe is visiting Charlene, who has fallen in love with him, when Max shows up, anxious to talk to him. Max informs Joe that he is Jo Ann's long-lost father and cautions him to stay away from her, as he feels that he will tie her to a "life of drudgery." Indignant, Joe tells Max that he is marrying Jo Ann and goes to see her. When Joe states that he knows Max is her father, Jo Ann is stunned and insists that they are not related. Jo Ann then tells Joe how she met Max months before: While watching Max perform one night, the lonely, insecure Jo Ann is called to the stage by Charlene. Jo Ann is both frightened and excited by the charismatic magician and, a few days later, attends a concert with him. Afterward, Max insists that he and Jo Ann are soulmates and are destined to become lifelong "companions." When Max later tries to force himself on her, however, she throws him out of her house. Despite her anger, Jo Ann finds she is drawn to Max and resumes seeing him, then months later, meets Joe. After Jo Ann concludes her story, she assures Joe that she loves him and gives him a "special" brooch as a token. Later, however, as Joe is saying goodbye to Charlene, he notices that she has a brooch identical to Jo Ann's and learns that it was a gift from Max. Seeing Joe's pained reaction, Charlene finally deduces that he is in love with Jo Ann and starts to laugh. Back at the apartment, while a deputy goes to fetch Jo Ann, police chief Bob McManus talks with Joe, encouraging him to surrender. Joe refuses to give up, however, and yells at the crowd below to "finish him off." As Jo Ann runs through the crowd, desperate to reach Joe, she is hit by a passing bicycle and taken away. More police then arrive, and Joe recalls his final meeting with Max: When Max shows up, demanding that Joe stop seeing Jo Ann, an enraged Joe almost throws him out the window. Max calmly reveals that he came intending to shoot Joe, then sees Jo Ann's brooch on Joe's dresser and starts to tease him about it. Unable to endure Max's taunts, Joe grabs his gun and shoots him. Back outside the apartment, the police start throwing tear gas through Joe's window, just as a recovered Jo Ann sneaks up the stairs to his room. After Jo Ann pleads with Joe to believe in himself, as she and his friends do, Joe finally opens his door, and she helps him escape the tear gas. Joe then gives himself up, and Jo Ann vows to wait for him.
Barbara Bel Geddes
Elisha Cook Jr.
Robert A. Davis
Russell A. Cully
H. De Schulthess
Richard Van Hessen
The Long Night
A remake of Marcel Carné's Le Jour se lève (1939, aka Daybreak, starring Jean Gabin), it stars Henry Fonda as Joe Adams, a World War II veteran who appears to have committed murder in the top floor of the boarding house where he lives. After the police surround the place and fire a volley of bullets through his window, Joe reflects on the events leading up to the killing, and the narrative unfolds in a series of flashbacks.
We find Joe in happier times, working in a factory in a grimy steel town, making the acquaintance of Jo Ann (Barbara Bel Geddes), a working-class girl who was raised in the same orphanage as he was. Joe falls for Jo Ann but realizes there is an obstacle standing between them: a silver-tongued magician who calls himself Maximilian the Great (Vincent Price). Joe gleans information from Max's hard-boiled assistant, Charlene (Ann Dvorak), who warns him that the magician is a womanizing cad. But what is his relationship to Jo Ann? Is he her father? Or her seducer?
The corpse in the boarding house, we realize, is Maximilian. And Joe is clearly the killer. But as the police fire tear gas into the apartment and prepare for their final offensive, is there anything Joe can do to learn the truth, redeem himself, or at the very least keep from being killed in a hail of gunfire?
Even at the time of its release, the visual style of The Long Night was its most striking feature. "If atmosphere and mood could alone sustain a motion picture," wrote Otis L. Guernsey, Jr. in the New York Herald Tribune, "this latest melodrama would rank among the most effective of the year."
The look of The Long Night is distinguished by the fact that it is shot almost entirely indoors (except for the prologue which is used to establish the setting). Ordinarily this would not seem like such an accomplishment, but The Long Night includes numerous exterior scenes, such as factory yards, vacant lots, streets and gas stations. Rather than rely on rear projection or painted backdrops, which give the sets an unwanted two-dimensionality, production designer Eugéne Lourié conceived elaborate sets that were built in forced perspective, to create the illusion of depth within the confines of the soundstage. ("Forced perspective" means certain portions of the scenery are built on a smaller scale, tricking the eye into believing they are much further in the distance.)
"We didn't plan to eliminate reality; we wanted to create the most suitable reality for the film," Lourié later wrote, "By omitting certain useless details, by underlining some others, by conveying the mood by lighting, colors, shapes, and linear composition, the designer could make the sets much more expressive than real locations. They could become more real than real. A poetic reality, a reality with soul."
The most elaborate set was the boarding house exterior, which entailed the construction of the multi-story apartment building as well as the town square, complete with surrounding buildings and a war memorial statue -- all within the confines of a soundstage. The reason the producers chose to reconstruct the scene (when there was an actual location already standing) was the extreme difficulty in lighting an exterior location at night -- and almost all the scenes here occur at night. By recreating the setting indoors, the lighting as well as the quality of sound were much easier to control.
Several scenes occur within view of the town's immense factories, constantly belching smoke and fire into the sky. This posed several challenges to the filmmakers. At first Lourié considered a painted backdrop, but quickly ruled it out. "We had to shoot both day and night scenes, which would necessitate painting two separate backdrops, a very expensive proposition if they were made full size."
Instead, he supervised the construction of a miniature factory (built in forced perspective) which was placed at the rear of the set, in front of a painted sky. "Apart from my personal preference for three-dimensional miniatures to flat painting, I felt this method offered an advantage," Lourié explained, "A miniature [setpiece] could be lit along with the rest of the set, creating the same mood and unity of lighting." Plus, it could be rigged to emit smoke and fire, providing an extra layer of authenticity.
Rather than depict the freight trains passing between the factory and the low-rent part of town, Lourié chose to simply suggest their presence by funneling smoke up from the set, and strategically moving it across the frame (a technique that was borrowed from the production design of Le Jour se léve). The subtle application of railroad sound effects completes the illusion.
In the end, Lourié achieved the sense of "poetic reality" he had aimed for, though not everyone appreciated his efforts. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times complained, "The setting itself is inconsistent with the realism it patently pretends. The place is supposed to be a mill town in the Pennsylvania-Ohio belt and the characters are naturally intended to be likely to that region. But the scene looks entirely artificial." Commenting not only upon the sets, he continues, "In short, Mr. Litvak's production is an obvious theatrical fake, exposed by its own pretensions and an over-talked John Wexley script."
Perhaps Crowther would have been more kind to the production designer if he weren't so dissatisfied with the film as a whole. His review begins: "It is not very likely that many who see The Long Night will know that it is based on an old French picture, Daybreak, which had Jean Gabin as its star. But it is -- and we mention the connection because Daybreak, while not a sterling film, was in every respect superior to this new job, now on the Palace screen -- which fact is a pertinent reflection upon the standard techniques of Hollywood."
Though Crowther is certainly entitled to his opinion, it is not entirely accurate to consider The Long Night a crass Hollywoodization of a European film. It is, more accurately, a European production that happened to be filmed in Hollywood. The producers and director had all worked in the French film industry prior to World War II, and were trying to bring to American cinema a more European sensibility. Producers Robert and Raymond Hakim (born in Egypt) had worked with Jean Gabin (the star of Le Jour se lève) on La Béte Humaine (1938) and Pépé le Moko (1937). German-born Litvak's directorial credits include the French films Mayerling (1936, with Charles Boyer) and L'quipage (1935, aka Flight Into Darkness, starring Annabella).
Lourié was born in Russia and was a frequent collaborator with legendary director Jean Renoir, on such classics as Le Grande Illusion (1937) and La Règle du jeu (1939). In fact, at the time The Long Night was in preproduction, Lourié had been engaged to work on an English-language remake of Renoir's Madame Bovary (1933, produced by the Hakims, directed again by Renoir). When the project fell through, the Hakims asked him to work on The Long Night instead, which is how he came to be involved in this project.
The Long Night was filmed under the title A Time to Kill, which was derived from Ecclesiastes 3:3 ("A time to kill, and a time to heal..."). Prior to release, the title was changed. Apparently the producers preferred a Shakespearean reference to a biblical one, and the film as it exists today includes an introductory title card quoting Macbeth, "The night is long/That never finds the day."
The Long Night was the first screen appearance by character actress Barbara Bel Geddes. She had already established a reputation for herself on Broadway when director Anatole Litvak "discovered" her upon seeing Elia Kazan's production of Deep Are the Roots. Bel Geddes's role in Deep Are the Roots earned her the Donaldson Award for "Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre."
Even though The Long Night was a critical and financial failure (losing an estimated $1 million), it served as a springboard for Bel Geddes's career. After watching her performance, RKO signed Bel Geddes to a seven-year contract, which proved to be the beginning of a long and rewarding career in film and television.
Producers: Raymond Hakim, Robert Hakim, Anatole Litvak
Director: Anatole Litvak
Screenplay: John Wexley; Jacques Viot (earlier script)
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Production Design: Eugéne Lourié
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Film Editing: Robert Swink
Cast: Henry Fonda (Joe Adams), Barbara Bel Geddes (Jo Ann), Vincent Price (Maximilian), Ann Dvorak (Charlene), Howard Freeman (Sheriff Ned Meade), Moroni Olsen (Chief of Police), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Frank Dunlap), Queenie Smith (Mrs. Tully), David Clarke (Bill Pulanski), Charles McGraw (Policeman Stevens), Patty King (Peggy).
by Bret Wood
The Long Night
The working title of this film was A Time to Kill. Although a print of the film was not viewed, the above credits and summary were taken from a cutting continuity deposited with copyright records. The opening credits conclude with the following quotation: "'...The night is long/That never finds the day...'William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act IV, Scene III." As indicated in the continuity, an offscreen narrator opens the story. Henry Fonda, as the character "Joe Adams," then provides intermittent, offscreen narration throughout the film. According to an August 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item, the Hakim brothers purchased Le jour se leve, (Daybreak), the 1939 French film on which The Long Night is based, in the spring of 1945. The internationally popular picture was directed by Marcel Carne and starred Jean Gabin, Jules Berry and Arletty.
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005), the daughter of noted theatrical producer Norman Bel Geddes, made her screen debut in The Long Night. According to studio press material, director Anatole Litvak cast Bel Geddes after seeing her on Broadway in the play Deep Are the Roots. Bel Geddes subsequently signed a seven-year contract with RKO. Although the actress made a number of films, she became best known for her work on the Broadway stage and for her role as "Miss Ellie Ewing" on the long-running television series Dallas. The picture also marked Litvak's return to filmmaking after several years of overseas Army service. RKO borrowed Vincent Price from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, painter Howard Warshaw was to make "on-the-set sketches" for the film's "advertising art." Hollywood Reporter announced in late September 1946 that Manny Harman and his orchestra were signed for the picture, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. In July 1947, Hollywood Reporter announced that Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington had completed music and lyrics for the film's theme song, titled "The Long Night," but the song was not listed in the cutting continuity. RKO planned an elaborate publicity "event" for the film's New England showings, in which William Courtney, the lawyer who prosecuted Al Capone, and Herbert L. Callahan, a prominent defense attorney, were to try a mock case, similar to the one depicted in the film. According to modern sources, the film lost $1,000,000 at the box office.
Released in United States on Video July 18, 2000
Released in United States Summer August 6, 1947
Shown at Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund (Norwegian Film Institute Golden Anniversary) August 19-25, 1989.
Remake of French film "Le jour se leve" (1939) directed by Marcel Carne. Joseph Losey worked on the film in some capacity, however uncredited.
Released in United States on Video July 18, 2000
Released in United States Summer August 6, 1947