Thursday, May 06, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Night Editor (1946)

I've had very good luck with short movies this week, starting with the 61-minute WOMAN AGAINST WOMAN (1938) and then the 65-minute MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945). Tonight's 68-minute movie, NIGHT EDITOR, was a terrific little film noir produced with great style.

Like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, NIGHT EDITOR is a mid-'40s Columbia film shot by Burnett Guffey; Philip Tannura also filmed NIGHT EDITOR. The movie is worth seeing for the cinematography alone; there are some phenomenal shots of shadowy figures, rainy nights, and a dark, deserted beach. The DVD print, which is part of the Bad Girls of Film Noir, Vol. 2 collection, is spectacularly good.

NIGHT EDITOR tells the cautionary tale of homicide detective Tony Cochrane (William Gargan), who has a devoted wife, Martha (Jeff Donnell), but has made the very bad choice to have a fling with a very bad woman, Jill Merrill (Janis Carter). Jill is a glamorous society dame, and she is also one disturbed woman, who is way too interested in violence.

Tony finds himself in a terrible jam when he and Jill witness a murder while parked in his car at the beach. If Tony and Jill come forward as witnesses and identify the murderer, their affair will be exposed, and Tony will likely lose his wife and little boy. The story takes some most interesting twists and turns on its way to resolving Tony's moral dilemma.

The film's performances are uniformly good. Janis Carter is completely riveting as a woman whose...strangeness was fairly unique for 1946; the only character I can think of who comes close is Martha Vickers' Carmen Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP, released the same year. When Carter's Jill starts screaming that she wants to see the body of the murder victim, it's one of the more bizarre moments ever caught on film. And her twisted behavior escalates from there.

A parental advisory side note seems appropriate here: Although this film was made in 1946 and the film's depiction of violence and the affair is visually restrained, Carter's psychologically damaged character is so over the top that parents may wish to approach children viewing the film with some caution.

Gargan is very good as the morally conflicted cop who knows he's doing the wrong thing over and over again yet can't seem to help himself, at least initially. Waiting to see if he'll finally crack is part of what makes the film compelling. Donnell likewise does a good job as the hurt wife who hopes her distant husband will start spending more time at home.

The supporting cast includes Coulter Irwin, Paul E. Burns, Harry Shannon, Frank Wilcox, and Robert Stevens (aka Robert Kellard).

Michael Chapin, who plays Gargan and Donnell's little boy, was the older brother of Lauren Chapin of TV's FATHER KNOWS BEST.

NIGHT EDITOR was directed by Henry Levin. Levin's titles include the charming romantic comedy THE MATING OF MILLIE (1948), starring Evelyn Keyes and Glenn Ford, and THE PRESIDENT'S LADY (1953) starring Charlton Heston and Susan Hayward. Levin is the director who gave Charlton Heston advice on how to believably play great men of history: "Just remember: you don't know you're going to be President yet."

NIGHT EDITOR has also been reviewed by Glenn Erickson, Dave Kehr, Alexander Coleman, and at Noir of the Week.


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