DirectorJoseph H. Lewis
Release Date(s)1946 (February 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
So Dark the Night (1946) is a mystery/thriller set in France. Inspector Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), a workaholic Parisian detective, hasn’t had a vacation in over a decade. He sets out for a badly-needed quiet holiday at a country inn in the village of St. Margot and becomes attracted to the innkeeper’s young, attractive daughter Nanette Michaud (Micheline Cheirel). Her mother (Ann Codee) encourages the romance because the detective is wealthy and has status, but her father (Eugene Borden) objects, believing Cassin is too old. Besides, she’s been promised to local farmer Leon Archard (Paul Marion) from the time they were children.
Nevertheless, Cassin and Nanette announce their plans to marry. On the evening of their engagement party, Nanette and Leon both disappear. When Cassin finds Nanette’s strangled corpse floating in a local river, he becomes distraught and vows to find and bring the murderer to justice.
Several plot turns keep this traditional mystery from being entirely predictable and the noir-style visuals are intriguing. To compensate for a limited budget, director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy) relies on artful flourishes and atmospheric photography, with tilted angles, moody shadows, and shots that peer in or out of windows. He suggests psychological discord through visual metaphors, and recreates a French town on Columbia Studio’s back lot.
The script, however, is weak and lifeless. There’s a surprising lack of suspense as the plot moves listlessly along. There are no stars. As a leading man, Steven Geray lacks charisma. The cast consists of character actors who go through their scenes without much spark. The result is a humdrum B flick with interesting visual touches.
Lewis did a much better job with My Name Is Julia Ross, made the year before. That film had a small budget as well, but a far better script and an excellent ensemble cast. As a follow-up to that movie, So Dark the Night disappoints.
The high definition 1080p Blu-ray release features a 2K restoration of the film by Sony Pictures and original uncompressed English mono LPCM audio. Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included. Aspect ratio is 1.37:1. The 70-minute black-and-white film is unrated. Burnett Guffey’s cinematography makes use of the monochromatic palette with interesting shadows, but lacks the rich lighting style of the period’s A pictures.
Bonus features include an audio commentary, an in-depth background and analysis of the film, the theatrical trailer, an insert booklet, and a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork.
A Dark Place: Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia – Critic Imogen Sara Smith provides background and analysis of the film as well as an overview of Joseph H. Lewis’ career. Lewis made low-budget films after giving up aspirations to be an actor. He started as camera loader, went on to editing, second-unit directing, and directing quickie B westerns at the poverty row studio Mascot. He used visual style to elevate his films. Lewis was the “quintessential B-movie maestro.” He worked in many genres, including war, western, and horror, and contributed significantly to the film noir heyday of the late 1940s to early 1950s. My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) was his first big success. Columbia didn’t have a big roster of stars, like MGM or Paramount, and borrowed stars for bigger films. The studio produced some of the greatest noir films, including The Big Heat, The Reckless Moment, and The Lady From Shanghai. Directors were allowed to create personal visions at Columbia as long as they stayed within budget. Post-war films explored psychological motivations. “Anybody might harbor criminal impulses.” So Dark the Night doesn’t offer reassurance. It’s a mystery procedural that breaks the rules and doesn’t restore normal order.
Commentary – Critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme suggest that viewers watch the film before listening to the commentary, since it contains spoilers. The film is based on a story that appeared in Reader’s Digest. Studios routinely looked to magazine stories for plot ideas. The basics of Joseph H. Lewis’ career in Hollywood from lowly camera loader to director of B movies are discussed. He got the nickname “Wagon Wheel Joe” because of his fondness for shooting through wagon wheels in his westerns. This was his way of making routine shots more interesting. His compositions in So Dark the Night are seen through tree branches, windows, fences, a shrine, a bookcase, and the inside of a fireplace. The movie introduces a varied assortment of “French rustic characters.” Brief career overviews of the supporting cast members are provided. Lewis starts the film in a sunny, light manner and gradually darkens its tone. Cinematographer Burnett Guffey shoots sun-dappled streets in the early part of the movie. Later, lighting becomes more moody, more tragic. Lewis and a sketch artist walked through the back lot in search of an appropriate key location, suggesting changes to existing outdoor sets that would stand in for the French countryside.
– Dennis Seuling