Arrow’s mining of the archives continues with this interesting confection from director Joseph H Lewis, probably best known now for the cult 1950 film Gun Crazy. Coming in at a tight seventy one minutes, So Dark the Night is a noirish murder mystery from 1946 scripted by Martin Berkely and Dwight Babcock from a story by Audrey Wisberg, the film very obviously made on a tiny budget in the studios and backlot of Columbia Pictures.
Lewis, however, was a noted visual stylist who could elevate the most mundane material with sophisticated camerawork and visual compositions, and here he is ably abetted by cinematographer Burnett Guffey who would go on to photograph such major films as From Here to Eternity and Bonnie and Clyde amongst others.
The plot of So Dark the Night is relatively simple: set in (then) contemporary France, renowned Parisian detective Inspector Henri Cassin is persuaded to take his first holiday in eleven years. Noted for his dedication, doggedness and affability, Cassin has to be persuaded to relax and is booked into a small country inn by his superiors in a village outside Paris.
There he immediately falls under the spell of the innkeeper’s daughter Nanette, ably assisted by her ambitious mother. Unfortunately Nanette is already engaged to a loutish local farmer but she is keen to break the engagement now she has a much more valuable catch. Her fiance makes it clear he will never let her go, and on the evening of her engagement party to Cassin both Nanette and her former fiance disappear. Cassin is then persuaded by the local police to apply his considerable talents to the case.
Tonally the film is an unusual mix of Agatha Christie meets Hammer horror. Cassin is extremely famous and, in a manner more usually associated with Christie’s Hercule Poirot, he is both feted by the locals on his arrival and then pressed into service by the local police once the crimes start to occur, and in best Christie fashion it also becomes clear that even the most civilised of people can harbour dark secrets.
The village, its inn and its occupants could have come straight out of one of Hammer’s middle-European settings of the late nineteen fifties, and there is even a hunchback peasant on hand to assist Cassin with his enquiries. The cast is mostly unknown, even at the time of release and are competent at best. The French villagers deploy an impressive array of cliched cod-French accents, the worst of which would not have been out of place in ‘Allo, ‘Allo!.
Steven Geray, in one of his few leading roles, ably brings Cassin to life and Guffey’s camerawork under Lewis’s direction provides the film with a great deal more interest than the slender plot might merit. For the final act, Lewis successfully steers the film into Val Lewton territory with a horrific but visually stylish denouement.
For this release of So Dark the Night Arrow have used an archive print in excellent condition. A not-uncritical commentary is provided by Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme and an excellent appreciation of the film is provided by critic Imogen Sara Smith in a newly-commissioned video interview, while a theatrical trailer rounds off the extras.