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May 25, 2021

Night of the Following Day

night of the following day.jpg

Hubert Cornfield - 1969
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

There is a key scene in Night of the Following Day that remarkably goes against most conventional idea of how such a scene should be filmed. Marlon Brando, one of the quartet of kidnappers, sees the plans falling apart when his girlfriend, played by Rita Moreno, fails to pick him and Moreno's brother (Jess Hahn) at a small airport. Brando is telling Hahn that he wants out of the operation. Most of the time, the camera is focused on Brando. There are some reaction shots of Hahn in close-up, but most of the time time his back is to the camera. The scene appears to have been largely improvised. Brando is wearing a tight, black t-shirt and is becoming increasingly unhinged at the likeliness of the getting caught. Brando works himself into a frenzy that it is almost a surprise that he does not break and yell, "Hey, Stellaaaah!". As it turned out, this is the one scene that Hubert Cornfield did not direct, turning the reigns temporarily over to Richard Boone at Brando's request.

The film is full of relatively long takes. The opening shot is a close-up of Pamela Franklin's face while she is sleeping on a plane. Another shot is from the back of a Rolls-Royce while it is driving through the rain. There is a thematic logic to the use of these observational shots. Parts of the narrative depend on characters misunderstanding of what they see. Even the main location, a rented house by the beach in what is clearly off season, is indication that the kidnappers have hit a physical dead end, anticipating that they will probably not escape from their crime or from each other.

The film was adapted from the crime novel, The Snatchers, by Lionel White. As related by Cornfield, Stanley Kubrick had considered making the film, but chose Clean Break, the basis for his film, The Killing, instead. The main concern, Hollywood's taboo regarding depictions of kidnappings, especially of a child, kept The Snatchers from being fimed in the Fifties. Cornfield also changed the kidnapping victim's age, making her a 17 year old young woman, There are similarities with both stories centered on a group of small timers, working with a more professional criminal in charge, in over their heads in an attempt to do the proverbial "last job" with the big payout. Leer, the hired professional who takes over the kidnapping, as played by Richard Boone, starts off as paternal towards the unnamed kidnapped girl before becoming more menacing, revealing his own agenda. Cornfield remains a relatively obscure filmmaker with most of his work not easily available. The majority of his films have been crime thrillers. Aside from Night of the Following Day, Cornfield's best known film may be the Stanley Kramer produced Pressure Point, about the confrontation between a black psychiatrist and a white Nazi, released in 1962. Like Night, the characters are never formally named in the credits. It is only through conversation that Brando's character is also known as Bud, Moreno is Vi, and Jess Hahn is Wally. The film indirectly is self-referential in that Wally was the chief organizer of the kidnapping, only to see himself lose control, just as Hubert Cornfield almost lost control of his film.

The blu-ray comes with two commentary tracks. Hubert Cornfield required a voice box for his track recorded in 2005 for the DVD release, just a year before he died. He tells of being charmed by Brando when they meet, only to have a volatile relationship during the actual filming. Cornfield discusses how he had to work around Brando in order to get what the director wanted as well as specifically pointing out the scene where he acquiesced to the demands of his star. Praise is given to the rest of the cast, especially Moreno. Night was Moreno's first film since the low budget Cry of Battle, a 1963 World War II film. Cornfield also reveals problems with cinematographer Willy Kurant that occurred on locations both in Paris and at the Normandy beach. Tim Lucas provides a new commentary track that covers the careers of the cast and crew, touching on the autobiographies by Brando and Moreno. Add to that are reviews of the film from the time of release as well as news items from the time of production. Lucas also points out the differences between the film and White's novel. Even though her role as the kidnapped victim is virtually a MacGuffin in the way that Night plays out, Lucas pays tribute to Pamela Franklin and her brief career.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 25, 2021 07:46 AM