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Hubert Cornfield
The Night Of The Following Day


The Night Of The Following Day 1967 | dir Hubert Cornfield | writ Hubert Cornfield with Robert Phippeny (based on the novel by Lionel White) | cine Willi Kurant | music Stanley Myers | edt Gordon Pilkington | art Jean Boulet | sound Ken Scrivener

star Marlon Brando, Richard Boone, Rita Moreno (Vi), Pamela Franklin (Dupont's daughter), Jess Hahn (Wally), Gerard Buhr (gendarme), Hughes Wanner (Dupont), Jacques Marin (Cafe owner), Al Letteri (pilot)

§ Crime fiction is a recreational fantasy for the meek or a game plan for the outlaw. So what exactly is Hubert Cornfield's The Night of the Following Day: the story of a crime, or the story of a fantasy?

A teenage girl (Pamela Franklin) daydreams on a transatlantic flight, eyes closed, headphones on. Her image is double-exposed against the typical in-flight view of clouds and the earth far below. She is drawn from her reverie by a pretty stewardess, who asks her to fasten her seat-belt -- the plane is descending towards Paris. An anonymous young boy across the aisle plays a flute. Like her, he appears to be travelling alone, yet never recurs in the story, remains significantly insignificant.

The plane lands, the girl disembarks, is met by a handsome chauffeur (Brando), in a black uniform who tips his hat and smiles. His lips move, but, assuming her point-of-view, we hear nothing, as she's still dreaming. The chauffeur takes her bags, chaperones her to a waiting Rolls limo. The suitcases are put in the trunk, he opens the back door, she gets in, sits quietly as the limo leaves the airport.

Throughout, the sound is ambient -- traffic, aircraft, the coming rain. The limo pulls in behind a wasted blue Peugeot sedan on the exit road; both cars stop on the shoulder, a man (Boone) gets out of the Peugeot and climbs roughly into the back seat, crowding the girl. The girl looks in alarm at the chauffeur, who merely looks away, activates the glass partition as he pulls the Rolls onto the freeway. End of the romance?

Brando: Night of the Following Day

The Night Of The Following Day

Rita Moreno

Moreno & Brando

The convoy ends up in a discreet spot in the winter woods where the girl and her luggage are transferred to the Peugeot. To her surprise, she sees the stewardess (Moreno) in the front passenger seat, no longer friendly, her face cold and tense. Clearly this is a gang, this is a sophisticated kidnapping. The driver of the Peugeot (Hahn) now swaps cars with the chauffeur who proceeds to drive the hostage, the enforcer and the stewardess to a lonely coastal location somewhere on the Atlantic (in actuality, Le Touquet in Brittany). Lit by the dull light of the overcast, they pass through the pines and dune grass onto a vast beach, drive a short distance, park on the sand. On the wide, distant ocean the black clouds of a thunder storm; on the wind-swept dunes, a lonely white villa. Night approaches, menace has arrived.

Even though the story-line of The Night Of The Following Day is an action cliche, the execution is elegant within its simplicity. The real-time sequences, the moody coastal light, the Left Bank jazz score, and the A-production acting make this film much better than the cheap action drama many believe it to be (including Marlon Brando). Although the production is American, it was shot in Brittany and (ironically) has the reverse-engineered complexion of a French neo-noir such as Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic.

The title has a poetic mystery to it, like a dramatist's scene tag, and it actually fits the time frame of the story. The title has, of course, a mixed astrological/religious significance in terms of the "12th Night" of the winter festival (the Winter Solstice to New Year's Day followed by the Feast of the Epiphany) although this allusion does not in itself make this film good or clever. Clearly the director Hubert Cornfield and his script collaborator Robert Phippeny exploited some aspects of the seasonal holiday -- most notably the idea of role-reversal -- and also took cues from Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night. Rita Moreno's character (the stewardess, sister of Wally) "Vi" is a casual reinvention of "Viola", a Twelfth Night character, and there are several significant reversals along the way. Still, as a technique, "reversal" is as basic and ancient as Oedipus Rex within the history of drama, so there is nothing especially clever here, although this shadow intellectualism in no way intrudes upon the telling of the story. We don't need to recognize any of it, but if we do, the imagery deepens.

As in many crime dramas, the gang implodes, due to the usual duplicity, weakness and greed. Moreno's character Vi is a coke-head, insecure in her relationship with Brando (unnamed, although at one point he is called "Bud"), which echoes their off-stage romance which they carried on for many years. As the enforcer, Boone's character is a sadist and natural-born killer, can share with no one, except Death. Wally -- Vi's brother -- is a sentimentalist, is in for the last caper, the perennial easy pension plan of the doomed. He's bonded to Brando through his sister and the fact that B. feels indebted to him. "If it wasn't for you, I'd be doin' time in Sing Sing," says Brando. The caper appears to be Wally's idea, as he was the one who recruited Boone. Details of life before all this remain scarce, however. As in most movies, characterization is by visual impression, not biography.

Brando creates an impression, no question. The Night Of The Following Day is the last film wherein he appears as a slim, viable hipster before surrendering to the tragic obesity that would eventually make him a freak. His character is really himself, a mid-fifties beat replete with emotive jive talk and de rigueur sexual cool. No scene shows this better than the dispute with Boone over their hostage. Brando understands immediately that Boone is a sexual sadist, intends to rape the girl somewhere along the line. They argue:

Brando: What's going on, man?
Boone: She tried to leave.
Brando: (raised) I was upstairs. I saw what you did.
Boone: (snarls at the sobbing girl) Shaddup!
Brando: Listen, man, if you wanna get freaky you don't do it with her --
(Boone laughs harshly)

Or there's the fight with Moreno. When she sees him leaving the girl's room, she makes a paranoid assumption (fueled by coke), loses it, attacks Brando. Brando does no explaining (although we know he's innocent), merely challenges her by smashing a bottle and handing it to her, urging her to disfigure him if she really thinks he doesn't love her. Because of the real-life tension between Brando and Moreno, the scripted fight becomes a real fight. According to Peter Manso in his bio of Brando, Brando was flying in various women to help him pass the time off the set and still messing around with Rita. "Even though she lost the script, she stayed in character." (as quoted in Brando, the Biography, Peter Manso, p. 645)

This ability to improvise within context in order to give an edge to character and scene was something that both Brando and Moreno were familiar with; Brando had studied the Stanislavski "Method" under Stella Adler, Moreno under Jeff Corey. In those days everyone wanted to see Brando lose it, go psycho, do his Stanley routine, knock a woman around. The angry man was a period figure, a universal post-war male trauma. Anger was the root sexual power of the modally hip, the release that precedes the release.

In his now almost forgotten 1957 essay The White Negro, Norman Mailer says: "The unstated essence of Hip, its psychopathic brilliance, quivers with the knowledge that new kinds of victories increase one’s power for new kinds of perception.... In short, whether the life is criminal or not, the decision is to encourage the psychopath in oneself."

So to understand the Brando style, we have understand what it meant to be hip. Dress him in black, with jack boots and a chauffeur's uniform, he's undercover; dress him in black, tight T-shirt and slacks, and he's hip, the existential bohemian with a machine gun and a chick to protect. The chick of course is the hostage, Dupont's daughter. His character is a moralist -- just as Brando was, albeit in the instinctual sense, not institutional. Certainly, he's a criminal, but a nice one; here he's Left Bank gone bad.

We never see the gang discussing strategy -- events just happen. Boone flies from Le Touquet to Paris, enacts the elaborate "clean money" scheme, instructing by phone, then shadowing, Dupont (father of the kidnapped girl) as he exchanges the marked bills for clean ones at two different banks, then flies to Le Touquet with the money. Events happen -- familiar scenarios need no prompting. Brando unwraps a brick of plastique, wires it, then has Vi drive him to the airport beacon which he ascends like a man on a personal mission of revenge, not some local plan. But this, of course, is this point: everyone has a personal agenda. When Brando blows the tower, it's an expression, not a tactic. When Boone tortures and rapes (off-camera) the girl in defiance of political logic, it's an expression, not a tactic. When Vi and her brother die in flames... it's merely an expression of their respective desires, where Fate is an accomplice, not a Hunter. Thus the action is existential throughout.

Brando, Boone, Franklin

Rita Moreno

The Night Of The Following Day

Brando on the dunes

The soundtrack relies mostly on the ambient presence of Nature, the ubiquitous ocean, the rain, traffic, distant reverberations. Scene transitions use sympathetic music welds -- moody jazz figures reminiscent of mid-sixties Miles Davis tones. Minimalism is the art-style throughout, whether it be the vast empty shoreline with its staggered dunes and lonely villa, or the gang's shabby Peugeot station wagon with its corroded blue Picasso paint job. The characters are minimal, their relationships private. Even the friendly local gendarme/fisherman whose appearances seem coincidental remains a mystery, his role reduced to ambiguity and visual tension.

Pure film? Or simply a weak script rescued by style and edit... certainly an argument can be made either way, although the atmospheric power and the latent mysticism makes The Night Of The Following Day a very interesting film. A box-office failure and disparaged by its star, it has none of the zany intellectual chit chat that made Godard's films such a hit, and was doomed to be greeted as a shallow exercise in fake exoticism.

Yet despite the setting, the filmic style is more Antonioni than French. The ambient sound, the real-time indolence within the action, the sense of a waking dream reminds us of certain passages in L'Avventura, that most anti-dramatic of films. Yet Night is a dramatic film. Brando's performance is much better than he believed or cared to believe. His idea of a good film was one where the dialogue achieved a social ideal, raised the weak, destroyed the strong... like Queimada (a.k.a Burn!), his personal favorite (and 12th box-office failure) which he made in 1969, two years after Night. His idea was a stage idea, not a pure cinema idea. Pure cinema removes the actor, exalts the landscape.

© Lawrence Russell / Feb 2010

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