Thursday, June 30, 2016

Remember Last Night?

Remember Last Night? In the middle: Robert Young and Constance Cummings

Una notte d’oblio. US 1935. D: James Whale. Based on: dal romanzo The Hangover Murders di Adam Hobhouse. SC: Harry Clork, Doris Malloy, Dan Totheroh, Murray Roth. Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine. ED: Ted Kent. AD: Charles D. Hall. M: Franz Waxman. C: Edward Arnold (Danny Harrison), Robert Young (Tony Milburn), Constance Cummings (Carlotta, sua moglie), George Meeker (Vic Huling), Sally Eilers (Bette, sua moglie), Reginald Denny (Jake Whitridge), Louise Henry (Penny, sua moglie), Arthur Treacher (il maggiordomo), Gustav von Seyffertitz (prof. Karl Jones). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 81 min
    US © 1935 Universal Pictures
    Print from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years    E-subtitles by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016

Dave Kehr (Bologna catalog): "James Whale followed The Bride of Frankenstein with this equally mordant black comedy, although the sympathy he found for Boris Karloff’s lonely monster finds no equivalent in the director’s attitude toward his characters here, a group of aggressively alcoholic New York socialites who awake after a wild bash to find a corpse among their number, and no memory of how the murder (or anything else) occurred. Whale seems to be deliberately deconstructing The Thin Man, offering another cocktail-swilling, crime-solving couple (Robert Young and Constance Cummings), though they never seem quite as delightful to the audience as they do to each other. Casually racist, openly contemptuous of their servants (it is perhaps the British butler played by Arthur Treacher who represents Whale’s point of view, muttering sarcastic asides as soon as his employers turn their backs on him), and appallingly self-involved, Young, Cummings and their friends (among them Reginald Denny, one of Universal’s biggest stars of the 1920s, returning to his old studio in a character part) seem like caricatures of capitalist decadence. As “The New York Times” reviewer wrote, “Probably it was not the intention of Universal Pictures to offer the photoplay as an argument on behalf of temperance, but the halfwit behavior of the roisterers in the film should commend itself to the W.C.T.U. as an example of the horrors of drink”."

"The film is dominated by a gigantic set representing the Long Island weekend home of the central couple, a mansion that seems to rival the Radio City Music Hall both in scale and its superb Art Deco design. Whale makes his characteristic careful use of the set’s interconnected spaces, with his camera gliding through walls as it follows the actors from room to room and between floors. When Gustav von Seyffertitz turns up as a hypnotist – his skills will be needed to pry memories from the characters’ befogged brains – Whale slips into witty self-parody, with a swirl of shadows and canted camera angles that evokes the gothic style of Frankenstein."
– Dave Kehr

AA: I only saw 30 minutes of this Bologna screening due to an overlap with an Anno Uno screening, but I have seen this film before more than 20 years ago when we screened a retrospective of the detective film curated by Risto Raitio. We then screened William K. Everson's 16 mm print.

There is little to add to Dave Kehr's remarks above. Surprisingly, in this 1930s mainstream film there is no sympathetic identification figure – or, even more radically, no identification figure at all.

The period: the Great Depression. We follow the Long Island jet set partying like there is no tomorrow. But there is one, and in the morning Vic, the host of the party, is found as a corpse, dead from a gunshot. Everybody has been drinking too much, and they literally "don't remember anything". Everybody has a hangover. And Vic's death is just the beginning of a series of murders.

The police arrives – with charges of disturbing the peace, drunken driving, and resisting the officer. When the police learns about the murder, the homicide unit (Edward Arnold) arrives, but the complicated chain of crimes is solved by Tony and Carlotta Milburn (Robert Young and Carlotta Cummings) in Thin Man style.

This is a story of deaths, but there is no life in the party, either. Instead, there is a sense of futility. The joy is heartless, hollow, and soulless. The racism and the contempt towards servants come naturally.

Judging by the 30 minutes I saw, a brilliant print.


To celebrate their six-month anniversary, Long Island socialites Tony and Carlotta Milburn arrange a wild drinking party with friends, culminating in a stop at the restaurant owned by Faronea. They are unaware that Faronea is conspiring with Baptiste Bouclier, the chauffeur of party host Vic Huling, to kidnap Vic. The next morning the Milburns awake hung over to find Vic dead from a gunshot through the heart and his wife Bette missing. Tony calls his friend, district attorney Danny Harrison to investigate. Bette arrives with Billy Arliss at whose home she had slept. Because of their excessive drinking, no one can remember anything about what had happened the night before. As circumstantial evidence mounts against Tony, he calls in hypnotist Professor Karl Jones to help everyone try to recover their memories. Just as the professor is about to reveal the murderer, he is murdered.

Next to be killed is restaurateur Faronea. After Tony and Carlotta eavesdrop on him conferring with an accomplice at his restaurant, Faronea discovers them. Tony bluffs that he knows about the kidnapping plot and the accomplice murders Faronea. The couple returns home to find Bouclier murdered in his quarters. Friend Jake Whitridge responds to a frantic telephone call from Billy. Tony and Danny arrive, as they had planned with Billy, moments after Jake. Jake attacks Billy and knocks him out. When he regains consciousness Billy attempts to shoot Jake but Tony saves him. After the various spouses arrive, Tony announces he has solved the mystery.

Billy borrowed money from Vic on behalf of Jake, using a false name. Jake altered the check to be for $150,000 instead of $50,000 and Vic forced Billy to reveal he had borrowed the money for Jake. Jake shot Vic at Jake's home and brought his body to the party, where everyone assumed he was just passed out. Jake paid Bouclier to remain quiet, which is why Bouclier had to kill Professor Jones. Bouclier, Faronea's accomplice, killed Faronea after Tony spoke to him about the kidnapping plot. Jake then shot Bouclier. Danny places Jake under arrest and extracts a pledge from Tony and Carlotta to quit drinking. They agree and drink a toast to it.


    Edward Arnold as Danny Harrison
    Robert Young as Tony Milburn
    Constance Cummings as Carlotta Milburn, Tony's wife
    George Meeker as Vic Huling
    Sally Eilers as Bette Huling, Vic's wife
    Reginald Denny as Jake Whitridge
    Louise Henry as Penny Whitridge, Jake's wife
    Gregory Ratoff as Faronea
    Robert Armstrong as Flannagan, the Milburns' mechanic
    Monroe Owsley as Billy Arliss
    Jack La Rue as Baptiste Bouclier, Vic's chauffeur (as Jack LaRue)
    Edward Brophy as Maxie, Harrison's assistant
    Gustav von Seyffertitz as Professor Karl Jones
    Rafaela Ottiano as Mme. Bouclier (as Rafael Ottiano)
    Arthur Treacher as Clarence Phelps, the butler
    E. E. Clive as Coroner's Photographer

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