Release Date(s)1969 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)Gina Productions/Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
The Night of the Following Day involves kidnapping plans gone awry, unexpected twists, relationships among the kidnappers, and betrayal. The film has a surrealistic quality that sets it apart from typical crime thrillers and features one of Marlon Brando’s more subdued screen performances.
When a teen-aged heiress (Pamela Franklin) gets off a plane in Paris, she’s shown to a limousine chauffeured by Bud (Brando) and driven to a remote country beach house, where a band of kidnappers hold her hostage as they await her wealthy father’s payment of ransom. Bud’s collaborators are Leer (Richard Boone), Vi (Rita Moreno), and Wally (Jess Hahn). The kidnapping is engineered by petty criminal Wally and his junkie sister Vi, a stewardess on the same flight as the kidnapping victim. Bud is Wally’s longtime pal and Vi is Bud’s lover. Wally has hired Leer (Richard Boone) to make sure their plans go off smoothly, not knowing he is a sadistic psychopath.
A local gendarme (Gerard Buhr) sets the kidnappers on edge with innocent questions and inopportune appearances that threaten to reveal the crime in progress. The cop introduces tension into the proceedings as he makes the kidnappers increasingly fearful of being found out. Suspense builds toward a climactic scene in which the girl’s father, ransom money in hand, follows their detailed instructions about delivering the money and getting his daughter back.
Internal conflict derives largely from Leer’s sadistic treatment of the girl. After initially sitting down with her and quietly explaining that she won’t be harmed if she follows instructions, Leer shows his true colors as a loose cannon whose pathological impulses may undermine and shatter the plan. In addition, halfway through the film Bud makes clear he wants out of the plan, but loyalty to his old friend Wally keeps him reluctantly in the gang.
Brando, 43 at the time, wears a blonde wig, is down to 165 pounds, and looks great. He even wears a black T-shirt at one point, an item he vowed never to wear again on film after being so closely identified with it in A Streetcar Named Desire. He plays the chauffeur straight, with no annoying tics, distracting mannerisms, odd line readings, dramatic pauses, or quirky use of props.
Moreno’s Vi is a crucial member of the gang. The role is a good one for the actress, who made only three films since her Academy Award-winning performance in West Side Story. Boone, best known for the TV show Have Gun Will Travel, has a showcase role as Leer. Seen first as an organized, reassuring voice of authority but later revealed to be an Achilles heel who enjoys inflicting pain, he is a frightening presence, mostly because he is unpredictable.
As the film progresses, it seems Wally has been included because of his relationship with Bud. First Bud, then Leer, appear to be the mastermind. Only later does it become clear that the kidnapping is Wally’s plan. His role is the least showy, so his eventual revelation was probably meant to be a surprise. During most of the film, Wally’s part in the kidnapping is lumbering, not-too-bright muscle.
Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) has little to do other than look scared, scream a bit, and make foiled attempts to escape. Her character exists to give the criminals a rich girl to hold for ransom. Aside from Leer’s brutal treatment of her, she has little direct interaction with the kidnappers and is absent for a good part of the film’s second half.
Director Hubert Cornfield tells the early part of the film largely in visuals. From the airport abduction to the arrival of the heiress and her kidnappers at the French beach house, only a jazz score highlighted by solo flute is heard, adding a weird sense of foreboding. The overcast sky, grey endless ocean, and deserted sandy beach convey the isolated location. Though Cornfield does shift locations for visual variety, much of the action takes place in the beach house and in a cafe during the film’s climax. He maintains viewer interest throughout, partly out of concern for the girl, and partly to see how the kidnapping plot will end. Watching the scheme deteriorate is critical to the film’s intrigue.
Featuring 1080p resolution, The Night of the Following Day is presented on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visual quality overall is very good. Details such as patterns in furniture, Boone’s deeply wrinkled face, Moreno’s soft, smooth complexion, and Jess Hahn’s thinning hair are clearly delineated. Will Kurant’s outdoor cinematography is especially evocative. Indoor scenes were filmed in an actual house rather than a studio, which hampers creative camera movements, though Cornfield and Kurant feature a narrow, winding staircase in a key scene. The bathroom scene between Moreno and Brando is filmed as one master shot with only a few close-up cutaways to Brando. A master shot only is also used for the scene between Bud and Wally, in which Bud declares he wants out of the kidnapping plan. As the limousine drives from the airport to the beach house, we see the road through the front windshield and the back of Brando’s head. An explosion sets the night sky ablaze when a device is ignited to distract from the site of the payoff.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional subtitles in English SDH are available. Dialogue is clear throughout. Brando, who was known to mumble and improvise dialogue, delivers his lines straight. Gun shots sound artificial and tinny. Waves crashing against the beach dominate the final scene. An explosion breaks the silence of the night so the kidnappers can collect the ransom unnoticed. Stanley Myers’ score is dominated by a flute solo that we first hear when a young boy on the airplane plays it and then it is played throughout, adding a sense of eerie otherworldliness. It’s not typical, upbeat caper film music.
Bonus materials on the R-rated Blu-ray release include two audio commentaries, Trailers from Hell with Joe Dante, and several theatrical trailers.
Audio Commentary #1 – Film historian Tim Lucas notes that the film was released by Universal in February 1969. Filmed in Paris and on the Normandy coast, it was originally intended to be shot in two versions, English and French, but the plan was ultimately abandoned. Lucas, a fan of Pamela Franklin, mentions seeing many of her films through the years and enjoying her performances but states that The Night of the Following Day “thwarts Pamela Franklin’s ability to turn in a memorable performance.” This was her first adult role. Director Hubert Cornfield and Marlon Brando did not get along. Brando “was looking his absolute best.” The film was budgeted at $1.5 million. The jazz flute that is heard at the beginning of the film signals the beginning of a nightmare once the girl is in the limousine. The Normandy coast resembles a lunar landscape. Richard Boone initially seems to be running the show as he has a serious talk with the girl. In every other scene, he’s an “animal on a leash.” The sibling relationship does not exist in the original novel The Snatchers, on which the film is based, and serves no purpose. In the novel, the kidnap victims are a young child and her nanny. Brando and Rita Moreno had a love affair in the 1950s, when Brando was married. He suggested her for the role of Vi, feeling an actress of her caliber should be seen. It was a rough time in Brando’s life. He was seeking an annulment from his Mexican wife, was fighting a multi-million-dollar defamation lawsuit, lent himself to fundraisers for sociopolitical causes, and formed a production company with Harry Belafonte.
Audio Commentary #2 – Producer/director Hubert Cornfield comments on his firsthand experiences making the film. His commentary is unusual because he speaks with the diaphragm-pressure method used by those who have lost their voice boxes. This often makes it difficult to understand him. Unlike the Tim Lucas commentary, in which Lucas speaks throughout the film, Cornfield speaks only intermittently. He notes that Stanley Kubrick bought the rights to the original novel, but there was a ban on featuring kidnapping in films at the time. Cornfield secured the rights and produced the film when the kidnapping ban was lifted. He wrote the script with Robert Phippeny, changing the child to a teenager, and eliminating the nanny. He “stole the structure from the British film Dead of Night.” Cornfield discusses other changes from the novel and the film’s development, noting particular shots and camera movements. In the bathroom scene between Brando and Moreno, Brando showed up drunk but was able to turn in a performance that Cornfield edited carefully to make sure the intoxication didn’t show on screen. He and Brando did not get along. Cornfield became sarcastic with Brando, who was embarrassed in front of the crew and wanted out of the picture. He asked Richard Boone to direct the balance of the film. By contrast, Rita Moreno was one of the best actresses Cornfield ever worked with. She “could cry on a dime.” Eventually, Brando’s character becomes the “knight in shining armor.” The cop has no idea of the kidnapping. Cornfield references Leer’s umbrella and bowler hat in the final scene “right out of a Magritte painting,” a nod to the film’s surrealism. Cornfield mentions that The Night of the Following Day received a rave review from Time magazine.
Trailers from Hell – Director Joe Dante briefly notes the literary basis of The Night of the Following Day and its initial association with director Stanley Kubrick, who abandoned the project and went on to direct The Killing. Brando drove director Hubert Cornfield crazy. Dante intersperses his comments with scenes from the film.
Theatrical Trailers – Four trailers for films starring Marlon Brando released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber are included: The Night of the Following Day, The Appaloosa, The Nightcomers, and The Missouri Breaks.
The Night of the Following Day carefully traces the kidnapping plot and deals with the interactions among the kidnappers but spends little time in characterization. The film doesn’t provide backstories for the characters and the credits don’t list them by name, though they refer to each other by name in the film. Brando is always interesting to watch, though it’s curious that he decided to make a crime thriller. His star power enhances the film’s appeal. The windswept beach is an excellent location, evoking loneliness and desolation. The film blends deja vu, predestination, and dream-like perceptions into the plot, though perhaps a bit too subtly.
- Dennis Seuling