Release Date(s)1990 (September 12, 2023)
Studio(s)Avenue Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
After Dark, My Sweet, a neo-noir crime drama, is set in sunny California rather than in the shadowy streets of a nighttime urban city. Its deeply flawed characters come together to carry out a poorly planned kidnapping scheme. Suspicions and moral dilemmas come into play.
Ex-boxer Kevin “Collie” Collins (Jason Patric, The Lost Boys) has recently escaped from a mental hospital and now drifts randomly from one small California town to the next, allowing fate to guide his rudderless life. After a confrontation in a bar, Collie encounters Fay (Rachel Ward, Against All Odds), a good looking, hard-drinking young woman who hires him as her handyman. She lives in a desert bungalow on a plot of land with an empty swimming pool sprouting weeds and a grove of dried-up date palms. Collie gradually becomes attracted by her sensuality, but is wary, and with good reason. She soon draws him into a plan to kidnap a local rich kid for ransom. The scheme, cooked up by Fay and her Uncle Bud (Bruce Dern, Nebraska), has been in the works for a long time. Collie is the missing ingredient they need to pull it off.
Collie’s downward spiral from professional fighter to aimless hobo is explained as perhaps simple-mindedness as a result of having taken too many punches to the head. Sometimes, however, his lackadaisical demeanor gives way to an incisive stare suggesting keen intelligence and an ability to size matters up quickly. Whether he uses his punch-drunk persona as a mask of sorts is up for speculation, but it keeps other characters off balance.
Fay and Uncle Bud’s kidnapping plan is, at best, sloppy and ill-planned with too much left to chance. Occurrences along the way raise many red flags that indicate this is not a scheme developed by criminal masterminds.
Director James Foley keeps all the elements of the film in balance: the characterizations, the visual style, the plot twists, and the story’s ambiguity. But Collie is such an enigmatic, alienating figure for most of the film that it’s hard to empathize with him. In fact, all three main characters are misfits and, in one way or another, society’s outcasts.
Despite hints of a noir sensibility, the director never reaches that standard. Unlike classic noir, the pace is sluggish. Multiple scenes could easily have been edited down and others aren’t essential to the plot. Foley, who’s also the film’s co-writer, has attempted to stay true to the original story by Jim Thompson but fails to give the film a distinctive stamp. The bright California sunshine allows for some beautiful shots of mountains, wide-open spaces, and long lines of vibrant palm trees, a dramatic departure from typical noir.
Jason Patric’s Collie, brooding, intense, prone to sudden outbursts of violence, seems to go with the flow of life when we first meet him. As an escapee, he stays on the move and tries to keep a low profile. When Fay spots him in the bar, he agrees to go with her because of a definite attraction. Later, he complies when Fay and Uncle Bud sell him on the kidnapping plot. Patric conveys Collie’s inner thoughts through facial expression, especially with eyes that appear to drill into one’s soul. Patric delivers his dialogue slowly, suggesting that Collie is deliberate in choosing each word before he says it.
Ward’s Fay wears her sexuality casually, with short shorts and a long, lithe body that practically invites greater exploration. She combines skepticism and cleverness with a desire to put her life back in order. Rather than throw herself at Collie as a noir femme fatale might, she’s far more subtle and patient. She has a goal, it will take time to achieve it, and she’s willing to use her body to reach that goal. Ward is natural in her delivery even when casually discussing kidnapping a small child.
Dern, a consummate character actor, is a scene-stealer, not in the usual sense but in his intensity and controlled reserve. Though he never overtly draws attention away from Patric and Ward, you can’t take your eyes off him when he’s on screen. Whether looking puzzled, impatient, excited, or afraid, he nails each moment, distinguishing his Uncle Bud from many other shady noir types. Dern’s low-life persona in After Dark, My Sweet contributes to the film’s edgy tone. Even Uncle Bud’s appearance in the same room as Collie and Fay creates tension. Easygoing and calm on the surface, Uncle Bud is far more than what he reveals.
After Dark, My Sweet was shot by director of photography Mark Plummer on Super 35 mm film with Panaflex cameras and Panavision lenses and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Blu-ray is sourced from a 2K scan of the interpositive. The picture is crisp and sharp, with no visual imperfections. The widescreen images are quite impressive, with an early scene of Collie walking aimlessly across an expanse of road and a point-of-view shot of a mountain and tall palm trees flanking a road seen from a car in motion especially notable. Outdoor scenes are bright and sunny, contrasting with darker interiors. Unlike in classic noir, there’s little emphasis on shadows and dramatic lighting to enhance mood. The widescreen doesn’t allow for a sense of claustrophobia in interior scenes. Grain quality nicely captures the original film texture and detail is nicely delineated, primarily in the stubble on Collie’s face, the loud patterns on Uncle Bud’s shirts and long grey hair, palm trees swaying gently in the breeze, liquor bottles behind a bar, and modest furnishings in Fay’s home.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear throughout. Sound effects include heavy body punches, glass shattering, gun shots, police sirens, and screeching brakes. Maurice Jarre’s music is excellent at creating tension, and in many scenes it’s the only element contributing suspense. Several lengthy silent sequences allow the actors to convey information through body language and facial expression.
Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber include the following:
- Audio Commentary by James Foley
- Primal Precipice: Interview with Actor Jason Patric (17:26)
- Call Me Uncle Bud: Interview with Actor Bruce Dern (12:52)
- Trailer (2:17)
- Rush Trailer (2:20)
- The Usual Suspects Trailer (2:28)
- Twilight Trailer (2:27)
- The Hot Spot Trailer (1:49)
- Color of Night Trailer (2:07)
- The Underneath Trailer (2:07)
- The Chamber Trailer (2:32)
Audio Commentary – Director James Foley notes that After Dark, My Sweet is his only movie writing credit. He wanted to make sure the screen play accurately reflected the book by Jim Thompson, and lifted much of the dialogue right from the book. Collie’s physicality is very much part of who he is. Foley saw Jason Patric in the film The Beast and was impressed. The studio objected to Patric because he wasn’t a big enough name, but Foley said he’d only direct the picture with Patric. Foley cast Rachel Ward because he knew her personally and because she had an impressive resume. Patric, who had been a production assistant on a play starring Bruce Dern, suggested him to Foley for the role of Uncle Bud. Uncle Bud is sly but not as much of a fox as he thinks he is. He’s not as smart as Collie. The casting was exactly what Foley wanted. He wanted to shoot in the 2.35 aspect ratio. Once again the studio didn’t agree, but he prevailed. The film has “an erotic charge” to it. The day-to-day shooting was emotional. Threads tying the scenes together are evocative and the film doesn’t rely on typical movie exposition. The location doesn’t allow for anything “extraneous,” visually. Foley’s guiding principle was to “make the actor feel protected no matter what” in order to achieve the best performance. Interestingly, Foley refers to himself a few times as dumb and his filming choices as ignorant, less a self-deprecating label than a sincere evaluation of what he didn’t know when making the film. For example, he had never encountered the term “film noir.” Though Foley doesn’t do storyboarding as a rule, the love-making scene between Collie and Fay was storyboarded because Foley wanted it to look very specific. After Dark, My Sweet is a combination of black comedy and brutality. Foley concludes his commentary by acknowledging the inherent talent of the actors to not only create characters but also to add unanticipated nuances.
Primal Precipice: Interview with Actor Jason Patric – Patric’s father was Jason Miller, star of The Exorcist and author of the play That Championship Season. Patric lived a “regular existence,” not that of a child of a celebrity. Though initially skeptical, he was talked into doing The Lost Boys by director Joel Schumacher. The Beast, shot in Israel, only played theatrically in two theaters for one week. Patric couldn’t find good material. When he met Foley, Patric showed him the After Dark, My Sweet script and Foley was interested but insisted on doing his own rewrites. Foley allowed Patric to find the character of Collie. Patric was interested in characters at a precipice in their lives, and Collie fit that perfectly. He regards voiceovers as a “narrative cheat.” The voiceover in the film is in the present tense. A trainer coordinated the choreography for the boxing sequences.
Call Me Uncle Bud: Interview with Actor Bruce Dern – Dern advises young actors to take risks and to do roles that other actors won’t. He discusses his early schooling and a class in which, instead of taking written exams, students were required to deliver a 20-minute oral presentation on what they had learned during the semester. He was touched by the movies, went to New York to study his craft, and was cast in the play That Championship Season, where Jason Patric worked as a production assistant. Dern talks about the “Dern-sie,” a little gesture or movement he adds in each role that isn’t in the script but lends a distinctive touch to the character. After Dark, My Sweet was filmed in Palm Springs. Dern notes that the film opened the same day—in both New York and Los Angeles—as The Grifters, which “killed” at the box office.
After Dark, My Sweet deals with society’s outliers, a planned crime, and clashing personalities, but never achieves the heights of classic noir. It lacks a driving tempo and cast of interesting supporting characters. Director Foley elicits good performances but fails to focus on other elements, such as suspense. There’s little escalating tension as the film proceeds. This is partly due to editing choices. A final scene takes much too long, diluting its dramatic impact. However, the chemistry between Patric and Ward is good, and it’s a treat to watch Bruce Dern in a pivotal role.
- Dennis Seuling