Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday Night Film: The Night Of The Following Day

Marlon Brando very quickly became less of an actor than a screen presence – charismatic and watchable, yes, but for all his pronouncements about The Method, not really inhabiting the character. The slow diminishing of his talent was aided by some very strange film choices – able to pick and choose, he seemed particularly drawn to dressing up and funny voices (Napoleon, Zapata, Fletcher Christian, a Japanese peasant) or, most of all, super cool characters that had a Messianic quality.

Supercool Messiah / Chauffer.
 In 'Night Of The Following Day’ 1969) he has his cake and eats it as Bud, a deeply moral, honourable kidnapper. The victim is lovely Pamela Franklin, an heiress, travelling on her own to meet her father in France. Bud diguises himself as a chauffer and takes her to a remote villa on a bleakly beautiful beach in Brittany. The rest of his gang are nowhere near as super cool and messianic as Bud, however, and their uneasy criminal alliance quickly falls apart due to the gang’s propensities for drug abuse, jealousy, sadism, perversion – and, of course, the ever present fear of a double cross.

Mirror, Mirror.

The Gendarmerie are baffled.

'One of these days, they'll invent a gun that's comfortable'
 'Night of the Following Day’ sounds like a fairly formulaic action film and, in many ways, it is, but its minimalism takes it into a different sphere. The characters are underdeveloped, their relationships uncertain – they have no past, no plan – they don’t even like each other. The setting is flatly photographed and seemingly chosen for its unadorned, big scenery – sea, sky, sand – on which figures appear as gun toting shadows and, in the climactic moments, the viewer has to peer into the murk of day for night shooting to see what’s happening.

Still Life: Marlon Brando with gun and umbrella

The film, which begins and ends with a sequence in which Pamela Franklin sits on a plane in a dream like state could, of course, all be a fantasy – the strange reverie of an immature mind – although it’s hard to imagine even the most disturbed of teenagers fantasising about being raped and tortured to death by Richard Boone.

Fantasy sequence?

An eerie feeling.
 Brando gives one of his most naturalistic performances, perhaps because he seems to be playing himself – Bud (Brando’s childhood nickname) is a close match to the Marlon Brando revealed in interviews of the time – an ageing, self-regarding hipster with a penchant for jazz argot and tight lipped moralising – a man permanently squeezing his muscles and smirking at a private joke.

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