Friday, February 18, 2011

The Other Side of Midnight (1977)


          Adapted from a bestselling novel by shlockmeister Sidney Sheldon, The Other Side of Midnight provides a snapshot of Hollywood at a cultural crossroads. With its epic running time, international locations, and opulent production design, the romantic tragedy is a glossy example of old-school Hollywood escapism—yet the film’s abundant smut represents a concession to modern tastes. As a result, Midnight isn’t suited for either of its intended audiences: It’s way too sleazy for fans of classic Hollywood melodrama, and it’s way too ponderous for moviegoers craving exploitation. Although the picture runs a preposterous 165 minutes, the story is very simple. Poor French girl Noelle (Marie-France Pisier) learns to use sex to her advantage in the years leading up to World War II. During the war, she falls in love with a caddish American pilot, Larry (John Beck), who abandons her and later marries an American publicist, Catherine (Susan Sarandon). Hungry for revenge, Noelle seduces a super-rich Greek tycoon, Costantin (Raf Vallone), then uses his money to cause problems for Larry, eventually hiring him as the pilot for her private jet. Once the ex-lovers reunite, things get predictably ugly until the movie reaches its ridiculous conclusion.
          Why the film needs almost three hours to communicate this information is a mystery, but the strange thing is that Midnight isn’t exactly boring. There’s just enough bitchery, scheming, and sex in every sequence to keep things moving along. The problem is that it’s all so inconsequential. Noelle doesn’t engender much sympathy, and though very pretty, Pisier is cold and vapid. Larry is a one-dimensional asshole, a narrative shortcoming not overcome by Beck’s shallow performance. It’s even difficult to root for Catherine, despite the fact that Sarandon easily outclasses the rest of the cast with her earnest work; her character is written so poorly that Catherine is alternately mousy, shrewish, and stupid. To cut the unfortunate actors some slack, the fault is really in the underlying material, a storyline so contrived that viewers get hit with one scene after another like the following exchange between Noelle and her father. After Noelle refuses the sexual advances of an employer, dear old dad scolds her thusly: “War is coming. Beauty is your only weapon. Use it. Let the hand under your dress wear gold, and you will be that much ahead of the game.” Classy!
          FYI, The Other Side of Midnight earned footnote status in film history because of an unusual aspect of its release. Twentieth Century-Fox execs were so confident the picture would be a hit, they demanded that every exhibitor showing the film also book a picture for which the studio had much lower expectations, a sci-fi adventure titled Star Wars. Suffice it to say that The Other Side of Midnight was as much of a box-office bust as Star Wars was a box-office bonanza. (Available as part of the Universal Vault Series on Amazon.com)

The Other Side of Midnight: LAME

1 comment:

angelman66 said...

I guess you're right, this one is kind of lame, even though Marie France Pisier is very compelling as Noelle, and Susan Sarandon is plucky as catherine. I read this book as a kid, and you are right, the film version isn't nearly steamy enough..it's like one of those late 50s early 60s Douglas Sirk-style soap operas...bu somehow I always manage to watch it till the end.