O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
–Othello by William Shakespeare
In Basil Dearden’s 1962 film All Night Long, the writers shift Shakespeare’s Othello from 16th century Venice to 1960s London. Set in the black and white world of jazz clubs and smoky back rooms, All Night Long has a cool cocktail party vibe and a fantastic score. It also has a vicious plot full of innuendo, plotting, and lies. The writers obviously used Othello as a guide, but they may also have watched All About Eve once or twice.
“What a great party! Nothing can possibly go wrong tonight.”
Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) hosts a party at his London brownstone. It’s a surprise anniversary party for friends Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his wife, Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). The couple and their guests, the best jazz musicians in London, gather to celebrate and listen to each other jam. As the group of friends talk and toast, a note of suspicion drifts into the scene. Johnnie Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), the drummer for Rex’s band, wants to step out on his own. He also has a thing for Rex’s wife, Delia. Tired of playing in someone else’s band, Johnny wants his own group even if sabotaging Rex is the only way to get it.
“I’m going to stare at Rex until he lets me go solo.”
Does this sound familiar? In All About Eve, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) wanted the lead role promised to Margot Channing (Bette Davis) in an upcoming play. Eve also wanted Margot’s director boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill) for herself. A little backstabbing here and there and Eve almost got everything she wanted. Watching All Night Long, I could almost picture Karen (Celeste Holm) asking Eve if all this heartbreak and treachery was worth it just for a part in a play. Eve answers, “I’d do much more for a part that good.” Eve and Johnnie Cousin would get along great.
“Pardon me. I have to go sharpen my knife.”
The allusions to Othello are more obvious. Johnnie Cousin as Iago plants the seeds of jealousy and mistrust in Rex (Othello) by implying that Delia (Desdemona) is cheating with Cass (Cassio). Instead of Iago planting Desdemona’s handkerchief on Cassio, as in Shakespeare’s play, Johnnie plants Delia’s cigarette case on Cass which enflames Rex’s jealousy and sends him over the edge.
“He never tries to destroy my life at home.”
Slowly and subtly, Johnnie plants a word here, a rumor there, until Rex doubts the loyalty of his road manager, Cass (Keith Mitchell) and even his wife. To add fuel to the fire, Delia and Cass have been meeting secretly while the band tours to rehearse a song they’ll perform at the party as a gift for Rex. Hearing about these clandestine, but innocent meetings along with Johnnie’s other lies convinces Rex that he’s being duped. Rex lashes out and what started as a happy occasion ends in violence.
“Out, damned sp…oh wrong play.”
Basil Dearden directed controversial films in the 1950s and 60s. He started with Sapphire in 1959 which concerns the racially-motivated murder of a young girl. Dearden went on to make the terrific film Victim in 1961. In Victim, Dirk Bogarde plays a successful barrister who stands up to a ring of criminals blackmailing homosexuals. Both films deal frankly with taboo subjects while avoiding stereotypes. The subjects are people with flaws who make mistakes and Dearden treats them fairly. In All Night Long, a few of the musicians smoke pot and there are references to drug rehabilitation and psychotherapy. Most mainstream, non-exploitation films of the early 60s don’t refer to anything like that. Then there’s the obviously controversial mixed marriage and mixed romance in All Night Long. Delia is white and Rex, black. Cass is white and his love, Benny (María Velasco) is black. Aside from the Othello connection, the big deal in this film is that there is no big deal. The romances simply exist. No one calls attention to them. Five years later in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the subject of mixed marriage is the whole film. Dearden tackled important issues well before most of his colleagues.
“Honey, we’re breaking new ground.”
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. We’re kissing on the stairs.”
Any discussion of All Night Long must mention Philip Green’s music. It’s glorious. Even if you think Coltrane is how we transport briquets, you’ll probably enjoy this score. Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, and other renowned jazz musicians play pick-up sets throughout the film. They play themselves and their instruments as both an accompaniment and an accent to the story. During tense scenes, the incessant drum beat takes a toll on the ones being squeezed and the device works. It comes off as natural. I mean, it’s hard to complain about a film that begins with Charles Mingus casually playing bass alone on stage while he waits for the party to start.
Attenborough toasts Mingus. Mingus toasts Attenborough.
Here’s where I wax rhapsodic about one of my favorite character actors. Patrick McGoohan, most famous for his lead role in the enigmatic science fiction/spy series The Prisoner also starred in Ice Station Zebra and appeared in and directed a few of the best episodes of Columbo. In All Night Long, McGoohan even says his trademark, “Be seeing you.” McGoohan has the best part in All Night Long. His smug, obsequious Johnnie Cousin can’t wait to drop his little rumor bombs and walk away, returning in time to witness the explosions and offer to help. His intricate plan has so many twists, you can see Johnnie’s wheels turning every time another character speaks.
“I’m not plotting against you or anything.”
Johnnie has set the machinations in place, but he needs to think on his feet too. McGoohan looks great in this film. He even learned to play the drums to appear more natural in the part. As for the rest of the cast, Richard Attenborough did lovely work in the 1960s and this part, although small, makes a difference. Attenborough’s kindness highlights McGoohan’s cruelty. Betsy Blair is all restraint as McGoohan’s sweet, long-suffering wife. Paul Harris and Marti Stevens make believable lovers. Warm and honey-voiced, Stevens convinces as the object of desire for her talent as well as herself. Her rendition of All Night Long is lovely and full of emotion.
“Did he call you Number Two?”
All Night Long takes risks. A cast full of jazz stalwarts and solid character actors, a plot written by Shakespeare and updated by Nel King and Paul Jarrico, and a catchy jazz soundtrack make for an unusual and entertaining film.
Dave Brubeck trades fours with Charles Mingus. Nothing to see here.
Note: Paul Jarrico appears in the credits as Peter Achilles. Jarrico was blacklisted by HUAC and wrote under different pseudonyms for years after.
This piece appeared in a slightly different form in Brattle Film Notes, the blog for the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Five stories connected by a linking narrative make up the anthology horror film, DEAD OF NIGHT. Though it wasn’t the first portmanteau film ever made, it has influenced many filmmakers. Martin Scorsese lists DEAD OF NIGHT as one of the scariest films ever made. It was also one of the few horror films made in Britain during the era. Horror movies were banned in Britain during the war. Produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios, DEAD OF NIGHT boasts an A-list cast of British actors, directors, and writers.
Spurred on by the dreams of Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect who’s come to design an addition, a group of people in an English country house discuss their dreams and what they mean. At first skeptical, the people, with the exception of Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk) begin to believe their dreams are telling them something.
“Doctor, I dreamed I was on a train passing through a tunnel.”
“I’ll need to see you three times a week.”
Basil Dearden (VICTIM) directed the first story, Hearse Driver along with the tale that links all the others. Dearden is one of my favorite British directors. If you haven’t seen VICTIM, SAPPHIRE or ALL NIGHT LONG, run out and do so right now. Anyway, in HEARSE DRIVER, Hugh Grainger (ANTHONY BAIRD), a race car driver, wrecks his car in a race and goes to the hospital. As he recovers, he dreams he sees a hearse driver in a horse drawn carriage beckoning him. After his release, he sees the same driver, now a bus conductor, say the same words from his dream, “Just room for one inside, sir.” Grainger doesn’t take the bus. Was that a good decision? That would be telling.
“Just room for one inside, sir.”
Christmas Party stars the endlessly appealing Sally Ann Howes as Sally O’Hara. Sally attends a party full of children, but meets a little boy who wasn’t invited, because he’d been dead a hundred years. Alberto Cavalcanti directed the second segment. It’s chilling and also sweet.
“You’re dead? How about a nice cup of tea?”
Googie Withers and Ralph Michael star in the next piece, Haunted Mirror, as Joan and Peter Cortland, a newly married couple. Joan tells the group that shortly before their wedding, she bought her intended an ornate mirror at an antiques shop. Soon after hanging the mirror, Peter sees things when he looks into it that aren’t actually there. He seems to be getting a bit cranky, too. Jane does a bit of research and finds that the original owner of the mirror was not a wonderful guy and he, well, sort of killed his wife. Is Peter seeing things through the eyes of a killer?
Do you hear or fear or do I smash the mirror?
In the comedy, Golfing Story, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne play best friends who love golf. At their favorite golf club, they meet a woman, played by Peggy Bryan. Both men fall for Peggy and decide to play eighteen holes for her. It’s not as nasty as it sounds. The vignette is played as a very British comedy and Peggy has a say. Basil’s character wins and Naunton decides to end it all. Later, he returns as a ghost. Radford and Wayne gained fame as cricket fans in THE LADY VANISHES and acted together in several films after that. This segment acts as the comic relief. It’s light and silly.
The fifth part of the film, Ventriloquist’s Dummy, is the one most people remember. Michael Redgrave plays Maxwell Frere, a ventriloquist with an unruly dummy. The twosome are successful and perform at the swankiest clubs, but something is amiss. Hugo begins to miss cues and refuses to sing songs in the script. Who’s Hugo? Oh, he’s the dummy. Yup. DEAD OF NIGHT is the original dummy-is-taking-over-and-no-one’s-sure-who’s-in-charge film and it’s a good one. Michael Redgrave looks like he’s really ventriloquizing. Redgrave is good anyway, but in this he’s mesmerizing. He appears for a short time, but makes a big impact.
“What have you done to Mortimer?”
DEAD OF NIGHT is an entertaining and well made film. This is a film Criterion needs to add to its arsenal.
Great party, kids!
Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) sees a police car pulling up to his job as a clerk on a construction site and runs. Desperate, he goes from friend to friend trying to borrow money or a car to leave London. Boy embezzled money and the police are on his trail. His friends console him and try to help, but Boy gets picked up at a roadside diner and police bring him to headquarters. There, sympathetic Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie) and his assistant Bridie (John Cairney) attempt to convince Boy to talk to them. During their investigation into the missing funds, the detectives discover that despite his windfall, Boy lives simply and has no cash at his tiny flat. To the police, that means one thing: blackmail. That blackmail and those affected by it on both sides of the law are the focus of director Basil Dearden’s taut drama.
Early in the film we learn the reason behind the blackmail is Boy’s homosexuality and his desire to shield another from both blackmailers and police who could still arrest gays until 1967. When Harris finds clippings about a prominent barrister in a scrapbook Boy attempted to destroy, he summons subject Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) to the station to learn if Farr knew of the plot. When he hears of the police’s theory and the consequences, Farr decides to root out the cowardly criminals even if it means the ruin of his own highly successful marriage and career. We see Farr as a man of great integrity who lives by his principles. He has a lovely wife, Laura, played with restraint by Sylvia Syms (The World of Suzie Wong), a wide circle of friends, and a tremendous future in the law. His investigation threatens all that and yet he continues, trying to help others ensnared by the thieves without implicating them. As Farr learns more about the crimes, he sees many of the men victimized by the blackmailers and their reasons for paying off without seeking help from police. An older shop owner tells Farr he’s already been in jail three times and couldn’t bear it a fourth. A colleague of Farr’s must keep his activities under wraps or lose his career. A well-known stage actor, placed by Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets) just wants the whole thing to go away.
The film shows us the attitudes of those on the periphery as well. During Boy’s early attempt to flee, he meets friends who obviously care for him and one who find his sexual orientation loathsome. One of his true friends jokes “Well, it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.” One friend promises to send him money and another begs him to go to the police and offers to accompany him. In the pub where many of Boy’s friends congregate, we see knowing glances and rolled eyes along with sympathy and indifference. The two policemen on the case feel differently too. In response to Bridie’s negative comment about homosexuals Harris says “I see you’re a true puritan, Bridie, eh?”
Bridie: “There’s nothing wrong with that, sir.”
Harris: “Of course not. There was a time when that was against the law you know.” Farr’s family and close associates differ in their attitudes as well. His wife knows her husband’s history but trusts him. Laura’s heartbreak is based more on a feeling of betrayal and less about who Farr may have betrayed her with. Her brother, who shows disgust about Farr’s homosexuality makes a salient point. If Farr stays outside the law in his investigation of the blackmailers, he becomes as dishonest as those who would hurt him. These moral ambiguities make Victim a deeper, more satisfying watch.
Written by Janet Green and John McCormick to call attention to a law the authors hated, Victim’s strength is that it shows homosexuals as people, and not stereotypes. The victims of the nasty blackmailers have families, friends, jobs, and feelings. They’re not portrayed as predators or corruptors of the young, but men who love other men, a fact which leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals. Characters in the film mention the law against homosexuality quite a bit. One of the victims says “Consenting males in private should not be pillaried by an antiquated law.” Later Detective Inspector Harris tells Farr “Someone once called this law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter.”
Farr: “Is that how you feel about it?”
Harris: “I’m a policeman, sir. I don’t have feelings.”
Basil Dearden and director of photography Otto Heller shot Victim in glorious black and white and the Criterion version looks crisp and gorgeous. Phillip Green’s spare music with piano punctuation blends seamlessly with the action on screen. The acting by the entire ensemble of veteran stars and character actors including Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, and even an uncredited Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served) looks natural and never over the top. Dirk Bogarde plays Farr brilliantly. He is stoic, but not unfeeling. The calm, subtle way he speaks with his wife, the police, and his fellow victims belies knowledge of the tragic turn he expects his life to take. Bogarde as Farr shows great strength of character and his resignation makes you believe him. As Farr says to Laura when they discuss his uncertain future, “My friends are going to lower their eyes and my enemies will say they always guessed.” I love this film. A decent man risks everything to fight something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t get much better.
I wrote this review as part of the British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his site A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
I write a blog called Prowler Needs a Jump: Films of Every Stripe prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com
You can talk to me on twitter too @echidnabot