So Dark the Night (1946)

To avoid making audiences read subtitles in-a-da movies, foreign-speaking characters are generally played by actors speaking Amerenglish with a variety of accents.  

We are used to this, and don’t mind a bit of it — the English is useful because we can understand what’s being said, and the accent is handy because then we know what type of person they are, and follow the assumptions thereafter.

Marlon Brando — a self-confessed MASTER of accents — muddled his entire way through The Young Lions pretending to be German (pronounce this ‘Chairman’) with lines like "Ve vill sturm the Ardennes and crush dee Amerikanz"  — and although he didn’t say that, at least there were plenty real American accents in the film to provide contrast.  

In So Dark the Night (1946) by Joseph H. Lewis, these issues are exacerbated as the entire film is set in France — making it the most unwatchable film-noir of them all.

C'est Noir
The problem with So Dark the Night will become evident to you after the first scene. 

Just because the credits show the Eiffel Tower, we are expected to accept that this film is set in France — which is fine.

But when you have watched seven painful minutes of dud Americanski Steven Geray speaking English with other actors in a horrible French voice, you realise you are going to watch a whole movie of people speaking in crap French accents.

Hollywood theorticians of popcorn placement will argue that this was the only way, but it is not.  First the film could have been relocated to rural America with no problem — and likewise it could have been shot with standard American accents, and we could have been asked to accept that this was France — rather than accept that what they were speaking was French.

Joseph H. Lewis was however a very fine director who could make successful films with little money and maybe that was why Columbia's president Harry Cohn gave him so much freedom to work.

Steven Geray, born Istvan Gyergyay (10 November 1904 - 26 December 1973) appeared in over 100 films and dozens of television programs. See him in Spellbound (1945), Gilda (1946), In a Lonely Place (1950), All About Eve (1950), Call Me Madam (1953) and To Catch a Thief (1955).
So Dark is the Night is not in this writer’s opinion a film noir, although it is regularly classed as such.  It is a murder-mystery and a romance, and has elements of melodrama and a really corny hunchback character — but it is low on some of our key noir signifiers, which include paranoia, mood lighting, psychological backdrop, and a weakened male lead.

Joseph H. Lewis did make real film noirs — of that there is no doubt — and for which see Gun Crazy and The Big Combo.  

Is she really going out with him?

Truthfully, it’s not strictly true that So Dark the Night does not have our favourite noir elements. It is low on paranoia, mood lighting, psychological backdrop, and a weakened male lead — but they are all there. The fact that it packs all of these elements into the last four minutes doesn’t make it noir, though.

Even the first noirish lighting technique comes well after the sixty minute mark, and so and henceforth it should likely be banished from the canon.

The mangled Franglais is so unbearable throughout So Dark the Night that it seems like the actors start to give it a break eventually, and return to speaking in Americanese . . . and if you can make it through the first half hour of twee and turgid script, then it does become curiously appealing — and before you know it you will have watched it to the end.

If you do get that far, you will at least be treated to the richly symbolic image of the lead actor smashing a window — and in fact if you have nothing else to do while watching it, do count how many window shots there are in the movie — I’ll wager there will be too many for you. 

Burnett Guffey lighted and photographed the film and he included windows all over the place, in an attempt to guide the viewer towards the final, crazy scene.  And although the film is cheap, confused and adheres to its own logic, it retains a special place due to the convention-breaking insanity into which it peaks; that and the fact that it is about the only feature which promoted actor Steven Geray to lead. 

Finally there is is some first-rate bumbling peasant action in So Dark the Night, as Steven Geray playing sophisticated Parisienne policeman arrives in the murderous backwater in which most of the film is set. It's that peculiarly tasteless and lacking style, that contrasts so nicely with the superior visuals, that will keep you going to the end.

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