Joseph H. Lewis was known as “Wagon-Wheel Joe” by studio editors when he was cranking out B-movie westerns as he was in love with using the wheel itself as a visual motif. But he was about more than just one genre. He directed Bela Lugosi in The Invisible Ghost, the musical Minstrel Man and plenty of TV late in his career, but he’s mostly known for his film noir work. One of those films, Gun Crazy, is a romance about, well, loving guns.
There’s a ten-minute bank heist sequence in that film that’s been celebrated for decades. No one but the principal actors and people inside the bank were informed that this one-take scene was real. It’s audacious — the action goes from inside the bank to the getaway car with no cut and then Lewis let his actors improv all of their dialogue.
But we’re here today to speak of So Dark the Night.
Inspector Henri Cassin (Steven Geray, who was in tons of films in supporting roles, but fans of this site may know him as Dr. Frankenstein in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter) has left Paris for a vacation he’s waiting a long time for. He’s a renowned expert who has solved all manner of the world’s toughest cases, but he finally deserves some rest.
At a small country inn, he falls for the innkeeper’s daughter Nanette. She’s a simple country girl, but something speaks to the older Cassin and he hopes to marry her. Everyone informs him that he’s too old, but his romantic heart beats for the possibility of a new life.
On the night of their engagement party, her ex-boyfriend Leon informs Cassin that he may have her now, but she will always think of her younger lover and eventually, he will have her. Nanette vanishes from her party with Leon as the main suspect, but he’s soon found dead.
Nanette’s mother is warned that she will be next to die and sure enough, she’s soon strangled. Pierre, the patriarch of the family and owner of the inn, sells the inn as Henri returns to Paris.
The murders and disappearance haunt Henri, who sees the fact that he’s solved hundreds of murders as meaning nothing when facing the one case that concerns the woman he truly loves. He comes up with a sketch of the killer and more information by studying the footprint found near Leon’s body. That’s when he comes up with an audacious hypothesis: he is the murderer. The sketch matches his face and his foot fits the print.
After confessing to the police commissioner, we learn that Henri is schizophrenic. Somehow, he escapes back to the inn where he attempts to kill Pierre. The police commissioner has followed him, however, and shoots our protagonist dead, putting him out of his misery (and mystery).
While this movie emerged from Columbia’s b-movie factory, it’s still fascinating and leagues beyond any movie that would be created today.
As you’d expect from Arrow Video, their new blu ray release has it all. A high def 1080p version of the film that makes it look better than it has since it was originally released, audio commentary and analysis on the film by critics and experts and the original trailer.
I’d never seen any of Lewis’ work before, so this was a welcome change of pace. I’m looking forward to going deeper into his work.
DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to me by its PR department, but that has no impact on this review.