Archive for Night Without Sleep

Baker’s Inferno

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by dcairns

I keep forgetting that the venerable Roy Ward Baker, director of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, among many others, had a pretty successful innings in Hollywood. DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK starred Richard Widmark and the young Marilyn Monroe, and is pretty good, even though MM’s performance has come in for a lot of criticism. It’s a rare psychodrama where the deranged threat is also treated with sympathy as a character, and allowed to survive the end credits. And I just obtained NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP, a noirish number with Linda Darnell.

INFERNO, filmed in eye-jabbing 3D, is also somewhat in a noir vein, starring as it does Robert Ryan (who could just about single-handedly wrench any movie into noir terrain) as a misanthropic millionaire (another Howard Hughes variant, like his turn in CAUGHT — he even gets injured and stuck in the wilderness like Hughes in the much later MELVIN AND HOWARD) with a scheming wife, Rhonda Fleming. She and her lover, William Lundigan (reliable movie ballast) mislead the rescue party to search the wrong area, in hopes that the broken-legged hubby will perish under the blazing sun.

So it’s a tale of survival, with Ryan building a splint, assembling a rope to get himself off a mountain, hunting for supper and looking for water in all the wrong places. And as such it’s reasonably compelling. The increasingly grizzled Ryan monologues internally to himself, keeping himself alive by plotting his revenge, until he finally comes to something resembling peace of mind and physical safety.

The 3D disappoints somewhat, mainly because the desert isn’t such a promising location for dimensional hi-jinks: there’s no middle-ground to add depth. Ryan’s lonely stumbling takes place against an infinity of distant sky and sand, with his pop-up figure the only point of interest. His crawl down the mountain should have offered opportunities for vertiginous thrills, but these seem to slip away: a POV looking downwards has no sense of scale, and could have been taken from the top of a hillock; most of the shots of Ryan pose him against the rockface, a flat background only inches behind him.

But I shouldn’t be too hard on the movie, since the copy I was working from was pretty sub-par. For one thing, the red and blue images were slightly out of synch, probably by two frames, causing a dark blink whenever there was a cut, and causing migrainy haloing of characters in motion, as if they’d stepped out of an old four-colour comic book printed out of register. So it’s fair to say nothing looked its best.

Nevertheless, with Ryan’s towering presence and such a compelling plot engine, the film entertains, and the final brawl in a confined cabin was terrific: as the room catches fire, illustrating the title in a new way, Baker throws furniture, lanterns, broken jugs,  Lundigan and blazing ceiling beams in our faces so fast we come away feeling bruised. Two-fisted anaglyph action!