Thursday, April 7, 2011

At the (old) movies: 'All Through the Night'

Some notes from a recent gathering of the local cinephile society….

“All Through the Night” (Warner Bros., 1941) is the kind of film that is usually described as “Runyonesque” – a reference to journalist and author Damon Runyon, whose fiction features a lot of cutesy gangsters who say things like “The companionship of a doll is a pleasant thing even for a period of time running into months.” (Sky Masterson, “Guys and Dolls.”)

I generally run away from Runyon’s stuff; for me a little of his cuteness goes a long way. Oh, there are some exceptions: I can tolerate “Guys and Dolls” because of comedy genius Abe Burrows’ contributions to the script; Frank Capra’s “Lady for a Day” has its moments (Capra remade it almost 30 years later as his last film, “Pocketful of Miracles.” Capra, too, was a genius of sorts, but this was not his best idea – oops, pardon me, this Runyonesque syntax is catching); and Lucille Ball, with Henry Fonda, gives perhaps her best performance in “The Big Street” as a callous showgirl.

But although “All Through the Night,” directed by Vincent Sherman, has Runyonesque elements, Runyon (that's him at left) had nothing to do with it. Subtle it’s not, but it generally manages to steer clear of coyness.

Humphrey Bogart stars as Gloves Donahue, who is described as a “promoter.” Apparently the studio didn’t want to make him a full-fledged gangster, although we’re pretty much told several times that Gloves isn’t averse to giving orders and that those who don’t follow those orders are made to wish that they, um, had done so.

Gloves does not lack for sidekicks or gofers. Fortunately for us, they include William Demarest, Frank McHugh and two performers who would eventually fare better in another medium: Jackie Gleason (here Jackie C. Gleason and rather svelte) and Phil Silvers. Gleason and Silvers aren’t given much to do, but as usual they do their best.

A denizen of Manhattan, Gloves probably hasn’t heard of Casablanca, but oddly enough, he does have something in common with a prominent resident of that city and a character Bogart fans would come to know well: Rick Blaine.

Both characters don’t care a fig about world affairs until they’re personally affected. For Rick, the catalyst is the love of his life, Ilsa Lund, played, of course, by Ingrid Bergman. Gloves’ motivation is more visceral – quite literally, his gut: When the baker who makes Gloves’ favorite cheesecake is rubbed out, Gloves’ gloves come off. (Not necessarily a good thing, particularly when Gloves accidentally leaves one of his gloves next to the body of a murder victim and is then pursued by the cops as he pursues the real killers – almost becoming a classic Hitchcock “wrong man,” or as Gloves himself might put it, the “wrong mug.”)

There’s plenty of action and comedy – and, on the bad guys’ side, Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt and that grande dame of sweetness and light, Judith Anderson – and the whole thing moves fast enough that you don’t question the logic of the plot, but then again, with a film like this, you weren’t exactly on the lookout for logic, were you? Nor should you be – and that’s as it should be.

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