Directed by Joseph Lewis (THE BIG COMBO), SO DARK THE NIGHT starts out as one of those ‘cozy’ mysteries. MURDER, SHE WROTE and every other mystery/detective show people over fifty love because “It’s clean, no swearing, no blood, no minorities…What, why are you looking at grandma that way?”
Henri Cassin (Steven Geray) is a French detective who goes on vacation in the sleepy village of St. Margot. With his Parisian manner and respectable job, Cassin attracts the attention of women young and old. Things are pretty grim if this amiable gnome is getting the attraction from shriveled spinster and the village sweetheart. Cassin falls for Nanette, the innkeeper’s daughter. The local bad boy insists he’s going to marry young Nanette, who trades in promises of nights of rapture among the potato fields for dreams of Paris shopping sprees. The ruffian stalks off, so obviously threatening repercussions that we safely file him in the “Not Guilty” file even before a crime’s been committed.
The first half hour is spent setting everything up, so when Nanette vanishes things start moving at a good clip. Who killed Nanette? Why? Why NOW, when this stranger has come to town? Cassin sets out to find the killer as the bodies stack up.
Lewis and cinematographer Burnett (BONNIE AND CLYDE) Guffey use shadows and foreground elements to economically suggest the French countryside. This is the sort of work that makes me wonder how much we’ve lost with the insistence that everything be CGI’d down to the last grasshopper’s nipple; they give you enough to get you in the mindset that “This is the place we’re saying it is, now let’s get on with the story” and then get on with it.
St. Margot is no more real than the towns in FRANKENSTEIN movies or CASABLANCA. It’s perfect for such a small-scale story.
This is character actor Steven Geray’s only starring role, and he’s perfectly cast. I’m used to seeing him a wormy little men like the ultimate soy boy in THE MOON AND SIXPENCE. Here he still has the polite manner of some of his other roles but with a reserved intelligence, perfectly believable as someone who’s solved hundreds of murders.
The killer is revealed by the use of lighting changes during a shot. I’m sure it’s been done before, but it’s a neat little effect. There are numerous clever shots through windows and other ‘frames’ as we are being told that this confounding mystery is squeezing Cassin as no other.
SO DARK THE NIGHT isn’t a lost classic but it’s an efficient little flick with a surprisingly dark message.