Crime, Drama

The Big Night (1951)

Comments Off on The Big Night (1951) 31 May 2012

Studio: MGM
Theatrical Release: November 13th, 1951
DVD-R Release: March 27th, 2012
Rating: Unrated!
Directed by Joseph Losey
Review by Craig Sorensen




The Big Night is a damned near perfect little B-noir.  I really can’t recommend this film enough.  It’s easily one of the best made films that I’ve seen this year.  Capably directed by Joseph Losey (The Prowler, M, Concrete Jungle, These Are The Damned & Modesty Blaise to name a few of his credits), The Big Night follows milquetoast teenager George La Main (John Barrymore Jr. of While the City Sleeps).  After his father is mercilessly beaten by newspaperman Al Judge (Howard St. John of Strangers on a Train) and his group of thugs, George steals his fathers revolver and goes out for revenge.  While following Judge through a boxing match and various dive bars he runs into a drunken professor named Cooper (Philip Bourneuf of Chamber of Horrors), his mistress Julie (Dorothy Comingore of The Hairy Ape & Citizen Kane) and various other lowlifes and miscreants.  Along the way George learns some hard truths about Judge, his father and himself.  Everything isn’t as black & white as he thought.  Of course, this being film noir (a genre almost wholly about grey areas), that should come as no surprise.

What I really love about this film is the way that all the characters in this little world shift from the moment that George’s father (played by Preston Foster of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang) is beaten.  From that point on, all the adults in George’s life take on a sinister tone.
Everyone is full of ulterior motives and petty prejudices.  And over the course of the night, these start to seep into George.  Barrymore Jr. does a great job playing George, going from wide-eyed youth to disillusioned adult over the course of the film.  If I had to find fault in his performance (and I’m really splitting hairs here I think) it’s that it felt that he was playing the character much too young at the beginning.  But the film doesn’t give you much time to dwell on that as it pulls the rug out from under George pretty early.  Really, every performance in this thing is great.  Preston Foster gives a wonderful understated performance as George’s father Andy and Howard St. John gives the ‘villain’ Al Judge great multi-layered character.  My favorite actor in this though is Philip Bourneuf as Dr. Lloyd Cooper, who is drunk through almost the whole picture.  He gets all the best lines and is able to play the comic relief character without devolving into a joke himself.  Of course, I’m sure some of the credit for these performances should go to director Losey, a veteran of both studio B and A pictures.  I’m not a Losey expert but based on the few films of his that I’ve seen, he is a director that I’m certainly on the lookout for.

MGM’s new Burn-On-Demand disc of The Big Night looks very good.  The film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.  Black levels look very nice and there seems to be a nice amount of detail present in the picture.  There’s also a nice amount of film grain here giving the picture a nice, gritty feeling that matches the subject matter perfectly.  The soundtrack is in the original Mono and also sounds pretty good.  The jazz soundtrack sounds great.  The only fault that I can find in this disc is that it is a DVD-R.  The Big Night is good enough to warrant a Blu-Ray in my opinion.

- who has written 151 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

Craig hails from 'Parts Unknown'.

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