Extraordinary! No sooner have I watched one obscure blind-person-in-jeopardy movie starring a BLACK NARCISSUS alumnus (Kathleen Byron in MADNESS OF THE HEART) than another comes along (David Farrar in NIGHT WITHOUT STARS) And they’re practically the same movie!
Novelettish title: check (the night is without stars because he’s BLIND, geddit?). Southern French setting: check . Miracle cure around halfway: check. Insanely jealous incestuous relative: check. But this movie, directed by Anthony Pelissier, is quite a bit more compelling and less cheesy than Charles Bennet’s potboiler, even if nobody in it’s as compelling as la Byron.
Jumble up the first film as if in a dream, and you have the second film. Winston Grahame (MARNIE) scripts, from his own novel. Farrar is a veteran who lost most of his vision in the war. Holidaying in France, he falls for a girl, Alex, widow of a resistance fighter, but suddenly she has a hostile fiance. Farrar gets to demonstrate impressive sang froid while dealing with this Gallic lout —
“Go on, go on, before I keek you downstairz!”
“I don’t think there’s much danger of that, do you?”
“I zuppose you seenk your blindness protectz you?”
“On the contrary, I should have thought it’d make it easier for you.”
But then, a panicked phone call — in French, which DF doesn’t speak — from Alex, inviting her over to the guy’s apartment on an urgent matter. He comes. Nobody seems to be there. As he prowls around, cinematographer Guy Green (GREAT EXPECTATIONS) lights him with a follow spot, emphasizing his isolation — the light beams onto whatever Farrar touches, making us feel the limitations of his senses. As he moves about the deserted apartment, finding a smashed vase and strewn flowers, an abandoned piece of jewelry, a gun… a loud ticking sound builds, oppressively…
Of course it’s Farrar’s giant alarm clock from THE SMALL BACK ROOM, tockative companion to the more famous giant whisky bottle. Has to be. In the insane Wikipedia article of my mind, Farrar had it in his contract that both items had to accompany him on every set, in case he wanted to time himself having a big drink. Or no, maybe the alarm clock sort of STALKED him, like the one that stalks Captain Hook in Peter Pan from inside a crocodile. Or maybe the sound just sort of imbued itself into Farrar’s cinematic presence. Sound men would protest when he was cast, because they knew they could record him in conditions of absolute silence and yet still on the tape, at the end of the day, would be heard that phantasmal tick-tock… That’s why there’s so much John Barry music in BEAT GIRL, it’s to drown out the beating of that infernal clock!!!
THE SMALL BACK ROOM.
Ahem. A nasty moment follows when Farrar sits on the bed and the fiance’s corpse slumps over on him. He flees, waits for police reports, but nothing. Then he discovers that the cafe where he used to dine with Alex has vanished, or rather it has a different name and a different proprietor. Alex herself has vanished. WHAT is going on?
Anthony Pelissier, who directed THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER, had an occasional tendency to stylistic verve (the climactic “rocking” scenes of that film are visually WILD), tamped down by the time and place he was working in. I suspect if he’d been able to get started earlier in the forties we’d have seen some masterpieces from him, exploiting the feeling of innovation and brio in the air. As it is, this is a twisty thriller with a stiletto-hurling bad guy and a third act detective inspector deus ex machina to sort everything out. Farrar’s experience with matte-painted mountainsides comes in handy at a dicey moment, and we establish for certain that bottle bottom glasses are not a good look for him. And Nadia Gray is tres charmant (although actually Romanian, not French).