“So Dark The Night”
Mystery and Intrigue
Joseph H. Lewis was a master film director whose work is spread out over several different film genres. He was at his best, it is said, when working in the world of film noir. In “So Dark the Night” we really see him at his best and it is surprising that this film is not better known. We meet Inspector Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), a renowned Paris detective, who decides that he needs a break and so her leaves Paris and goes to the French countryside. There he meets and falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Nanette (Micheline Cheirel) , who unfortunately for Cassin is already engaged to a local farmer. On the evening of their engagement party, Nanette and the farmer both disappear. Cassin takes up the case immediately to discover what happened to them and who is responsible. Cassin follows the case that becomes something of a psychodrama and a dark voyage into the mind of a murderer.
Director Lewis uses the twisty, pulpy material of the plot and adds some fine noir touches. Cinematographer Burnett Guffey (who also shot the classic “Bonnie and Clyde”) provides fantastic camerawork. The film is a remarkable and underrated whodunit that is driven by a continuous sense of real tension that has us feel a sense of unease even when the film is over.
Henri Cassin is considered to be the best detective in Paris. He has not had a vacation in eleven years and the police commissioner arranges a quiet holiday for him in the country village of St. Margot. He is tremendously attracted to Nanette and feels that he has found happiness at last. Nanette’s mother (Anne Codee) encourages the romance because the detective is wealthy and has status. Nanette is impressed by his wealth and with the prospect of living in the Big City. But her father (Eugene Borden) says that Henri is too old and that she’s already been promised (since childhood) to a poor farmer named Leon Archard (Paul Marion). The jealous Leon tries to break up the romance by telling her how much he loves her, but while away from the village the detective and Nanette announce their plans to marry. Leon returns and warns Henri that if he marries his girl, he will follow her everywhere and win her back any way he can.
Soon afterwards, Nanette disappeared and her dead body is found in the river. Henri says she wasn’t drowned but strangled at Leon’s farm and dumped in the river. At the farm, Leon is found dead from an apparent suicide. But Henri deduced he was also murdered by strangulation. The only clue is the footprint of a shoe found by Leon’s side. Henri is baffled and doesn’t understand the motive. Things get scarier when the housekeeper widow (Helen Freeman) finds a note under the detective’s door threatening “There will be another murder.”
The Freudian story is strange and it and strains credibility, but the elegant style Lewis uses is mesmerizing. There and several light touches such as the rich depiction of rural life and the character study of a psychological breakdown due to a pressured psyche that induces schizophrenia. I found the film to be fascinating and with this new release it will no longer be so obscure.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Audio Commentary by critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme
So Dark… Joseph H. Lewis at Columbia – Critic Imogen Sara Smith provides the background and an analysis of the film
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tonci Zonjic
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns