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November 02, 2021

Night has a Thousand Eyes


John Farrow - 1948
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

One might consider Night has a Thousand Eyes to almost be the anti-Nightmare Alley. John Farrow's film was released just a year later. Both films center on "mentalists", men with supposed psychic abilities performing stage acts. Unlike Stanton Carlisle in Nightmare Alley, John Triton refuses to profit from his "gift" but also attempts to run away from his self-discovery of what appears to be real psychic powers. It is not only that he has unexplained visions, but he has convinced himself that he may also be the cause for the events that he has predicted. The film was adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, author of so many stories of characters invariably in fated situations. That Woolrich named his psychic Triton may refer to the Greek god's role as a messenger.

The film is partially in flashback. The vision that frightens Triton the most is of the untimely death of the woman he was planning to marry, Jenny. Jenny also served as his partner in his stage act, with Whitney Courtland as his road manager. After running away from Jenny and Courtland, twenty years later Triton approaches Jean, their daughter, with visions of her death. Jean's fiance, Elliott has his doubts about Triton which are further boosted by explanations for the alleged coincidences.

There is a new documentary about John Farrow subtitled Hollywood's Man in the Shadows. That description of Farrow is also applicable to some of his films. Night begins very much in the shadows of darkness with John Lund searching for Gail Russell outside a small railroad station. Edward G. Robinson, as Triton, is a reclusive character who chooses the anonymity of living in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. I am not sure that categorizing Night as film noir is accurate as it does not have the genre's narrative conventions, nor is it overly stylized after the opening scene. What probably interested Farrow in making the film was the tension between presumed free will and destiny, and the belief in something that defied easy explanation.

In retrospect, Night is something of a warm-up for some of the philosophy and visual style that would be more fully realized the following year with Alias Nick Beal. Lund pursuing Russell, both barely visible due to steam from passing trains in the opening scene anticipates Ray Milland drifting in and out of the fog in Alias Nick Beal. Farrow also is more comfortable with the more mystical aspects of the latter film, discarding the need for "logical" explanations.

Film historian Imogen Sara Smith provided the commentary track. As usual, when it comes to talking about movies in general or a specific film, Smith is one of the few people I always find worth a listen. There is the usual overview of the cast and crew, but Smith also provides her thoughts on why John Farrow may be need a more complete critical assessment, pointing out aspects of his visual style. Perhaps had Night had a longer running time than 81 minutes, Smith could have gone more deeply into the collaboration of Farrow with screenwriter Jonathan Latimer. There is no information regarding the source print for the blu-ray but the reproduction of the black and white cinematography by John Seitz is excellent.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 2, 2021 07:52 AM