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So Dark the Night

USA 1946
produced by
Ted Richmond for Larry Darmour Productions/Columbia
directed by Joseph H. Lewis
starring Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Eugene Borden, Ann Codee, Egon Brecher, Helen Freeman, Brother Theodore, Gregory Gaye, Jean Del Val, Emil Rameau, Paul Marion, Louis Mercier, Frank Arnold
story by Aubrey Wisberg, screenplay by Martin Berkeley, Dwight V. Babcock, music by Hugo Friedhofer

review by
Mike Haberfelner

Available on DVD !

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Henri Cassin (Steven Geray) is the top detective of the French Sûreté, so much so that he has become a minor celebrity nationwide - but he's also on the verge of a burn-out, which is why his doctor (Egon Brecher) advises him to take a lengthy vacation, to basically air out his busy mind. So he moves to a small village in the countryside, taking up residence in Pierre (Eugene Borden) and Mama Michaud's (Ann Codee) picturesque country hotel. The Michauds' daughter soon takes a fancy in him too - despite the age difference -, as she sees him as a man of the world while she hardly ever gets out of her village. Henri feels flattered of course, and soon something resembling love blossoms between the two of them, something which Mama strongly supports while Pierre opposes it, as at a young age, he promised her to Leon (Paul Marion), a rough but honest local boy - who suffers from fits of jealousy. But when Leon's out for a few days, Mama organizes an engagement party between Henri and Nanette - which goes off the rails when Leon shows up and in a fit of rage promises Henri to avenge himself. When he leaves again, Nanette goes after him ... and that's the last time either of them was seen alive, they're both found dead at Leon's farm a few days later. Of course, Henri insists to pick up investigations himself, and there's no opposition to this at all as he is by far the most qualified person to do so in the region. But whichever route he takes, Henri comes up with very little, and the clues he does come up with just refuse to fit the puzzle. And then Mama Michaud receives threatening letters - and not long after that, she's found killed, something that pretty much happened right under the watchful eyes of Henri. Pierre is heartbroken and he decides to close up his hotel for good and move away, while Henri returns to Paris, a disillusioned and broken man. But his boss Commissioner Grande (Gregory Gaye) insists that Henri shouldn't give up that easily, and as he and Henri play the ball back and forward, Henri comes to a hair-raising and ridiculous solution - that he himself has to be the culprit. He insists to be put under guard, which the Commissioner merely agrees to do humour his best man. But when later he finds the guard knocked out and Henri gone, he figures there might be more to Henri's claim - and dangerously so ...

 

Now one thing up front: The resolution of this murder mystery isn't especially convincing as it's based on a radical, pulp fiction-induced misunderstanding of schizophrenia, and thus the killer feels to be very much pulled out of the hat rather than cleverly deduced - and that's a bit of a shame, as in all this is actually a very good movie, it's elegantly filmed, heavy on atmosphere, makes the most of its sets, is carried by Steven Geray's very relatable portrayal of a decidedly less than perfect character, and has him surrounded by a solid ensemble cast. Also, the mystery as such, with its many failures and dead ends, is pretty well constructed up to the resolution.

So in all, this is a very fine movie, and if it wasn't for the third act it would be great - but even so, lovers of vintage mysteries will get a kick out of this one!

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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Tales to Chill
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Out now from
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On the same day
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

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directed by
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written by
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