Monday, April 21, 2008

All Through the Night

1942, US, directed by Vincent Sherman

A Bogart vehicle that was released a month after Pearl Harbor, All Through the Night is an uneasy mix of comedy and wartime murder centered on an unlikely confrontation between a cell of Nazi "fifth columnists" in New York, and a soft-hearted gangster, "Gloves" Donahue (Bogart), and his crew. The opening of the film is all breezy banter - with comics like Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason on the fringes - but once the plot kicks into motion things get surprisingly brutal: there's a sequence where a body falls from an elevator that is startlingly blunt, the corpse thudding to an unmistakable halt at ground level.
The problem is that director Vincent Sherman doesn't know how to handle the transitions, navigating uneasily between the two different modes, which sometimes clash quite jarringly, especially in a fight sequence in Central Park where Donahue's gang pratfalls while the Nazis remain deadly serious. A more recent director like Bong Joon-ho might make something fruitful out of these tonal shifts - though he probably wouldn't have gotten the job in old-time Hollywood - but in Sherman's hands they feel awkward, as if he's never able to make up his mind how to handle his material. The same uncertainty characterises a scene near the end that's awkwardly reminiscent of the climax of Fritz Lang's M, the deadly serious "trial", but a belabored back-and-forth between Donhaue and his right-hand man in mock German undermines the drama of the setting,
It doesn't help that the script is generally weak, with little ear for dialogue; the film is filled with clanging lines like "Boys, we're on the right track" and "This might be a clue", especially as the plot becomes more obviously problematic in the second half. In the end, the film's propaganda value comes to the fore, with Yankee ingenuity continually thwarting the bad guys (minimal reference is made, of course, to the fact that the war was already several years old for some other countries), though it's perhaps worth noting that Gloves is able to call on a gang that includes Jewish and Asian members (the film's one black character gets short shrift).
Early on, Sherman stages several scenes rather well, particularly a shot through a kitchen where a slice of cheescake is being prepared, or another in a bakery where the camera moves in tight to the actors, but things quickly become much more predictable; you wonder if someone else filmed these shots, since they're out of character with the rest of the picture. Most of the film's energy stems instead from its fine Warner Brothers' cast, whether it's the starring roles featuring Bogart, Kaaren Verne and Conrad Veidt (especially good), to top-notch supporting work from actors like William Demarest, Peter Lorre, Frank McHugh and Jane Darwell (several of the cast, and others not named here, were of course refugees from the rising tide of Nazism).

1 comment:

peter said...

I actually enjoyed this film. A lovely mix of serious and light-hearted, plus a great cast.


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