Friday, March 16, 2012


You can’t really appreciate the benefits of a film like The Other Side of Midnight until you’re confined to your bed for three days with an ass-kicker of a late-winter flu. Only when one’s energy has been sapped from inactivity, muscle weakness, and a ceaseless intake of liquids (followed, with breathtaking immediacy, by the expulsion of same from every imaginable orifice); when a toxic blend of physical inertia, mental malaise, and miserable weather renders futile all possibility of doing anything remotely productive. Only then can one fully understand what a panacea to the beleaguered spirit is the extravagantly trashy film.
"The Romance of Passion and Power"
Sidney Sheldon (the man who gave the world The Patty Duke Show & I Dream of Jeannie) wrote The Other Side of Midnight for folks who find sociopathology, brutishness, premeditated murder, and abortion-by-wire-hanger to be the stuff of epic romance.

Sometimes it takes a thing like a 100-degree-fever to break down one’s resistance enough to allow for the guilt-free enjoyment of gilt-edged sleaze like The Other Side of Midnight. A film that, at a running time of over 2 ½ hours, is an over-embellished potboiler of love, sex, and revenge so narratively antiquated, so routine and clichéd in execution, that even on first viewing it feels like a rerun. Yet it is nevertheless thoroughly engrossing and strangely reassuring in its by-the-numbers adherence to type and staunch refusal to go anywhere near the unexpected. It's all there, everything one looks for in a soap opera: sex, romance, betrayal, power plays, vengeance, retribution...the whole shebang. Directed with a daring lack of distinction by Charles Jarrot (Lost Horizon), this big-budget adaptation of the 1973 Sidney Sheldon bestseller is a comfort food movie requiring little in the way of attentiveness, and nothing more of your brain than that you leave it on the nightstand and let the glistening images and warmed-over histrionics enshroud you like an electric blanket. Lovely to look at, easy to ingest, and 100% lacking in anything remotely substantive, The Other Side of Midnight is the cinema equivalent of a sugar-pill.
Marie-France Pisier as Noelle Page (short a, as in Pajama)
John Beck as Larry Douglas
Susan Sarandon as Catherine Alexander
Raf Vallone as Constantin Demeris
Clu Gulager as Bill Fraser
When Jacqueline Susann, the queen of crass, (and I wouldn't have it any other way) passed away in 1974, she left a sizable void in the supply pool of high-gloss motion picture camp-fests. The last of her novels to be adapted for the screen was Once is Not Enough (1975), a delightfully squalid take on the Electra Complex and May/December romance among the Hollywood elite. Following that, devotees of true highbrow smut had to wait till 1983 for Harold Robbins and Pia Zadora to pick up Susann's tacky torch and deliver the legendarily craptastic The Lonely Lady. Between 1975 and 1983, with the “slick sleaze” landscape populated by the likes of Judith Krantz, Danielle Steele, and Jackie Collins, the one book and film adaptation which genuinely felt like a worthy successor to the Susanne crown was The Other Side of Midnight. A film virtually forgotten today, but heavily promoted at the time and arriving at theaters with an incredible amount of promising advance buzz. A summer release primed to be Fox's big blockbuster hit, it bombed rather stupendously.
Father Knows Worst
"Noelle, war is have beauty. It is your only weapon of survival. Use it. Let the hand under your dress wear gold, and you'll be that much ahead of the game."
How do you say "Yuck!" in French?
A kind of last-gasp, big-screen entry before the TV miniseries came to corner the market on this kind of globetrotting/bedhopping glamour drama; The Other Side of Midnight begins in 1939 and tells the story of Hard-Luck Noelle (Pisier). Noelle is a breathtakingly beautiful French woman (they’re always breathtakingly beautiful in these kinds of books) who, over the course of one remarkably bad year, has her father sell off her virginity to an employer; runs off to Paris and is robbed of all of her belongings within minutes of arrival; gets mistaken for a whore; and has a whirlwind, rapturous love affair with Larry, an American Army pilot (Beck) who ultimately abandons her (pregnant, unbeknownst to him) after telling her to go out and buy a wedding dress and wait for his return.
The Agony & The Ecstasy
Above: Noelle learns of love at the extremely hirsute hands (and back) of horny French couturier, Auguste Lanchon (Sorrell  Booke...yes, Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard).
Below: Noelle's fate is sealed when she falls in love with caddish RAF pilot Larry Douglas (Beck)

Taking a kind of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude about the cruel objectification she’s suffered at the hands of all these beastly males, the embittered Noelle embarks on a curious course of revenge. One which involves pimping herself out to the highest bidder in an effort to secure enough fame, money, and power to eventually stick it, but good, to her fleetfooted wartime paramour, whom she learns is alive and well (and very married) in Washington, D.C. 
It’s raunchy fun watching Noelle’s Evita-esque bed-climb to the top (wherein she plies her considerable sexual skills on an increasingly unappetizing assortment of men), but it’s only after Larry weds the lovably kooky dipsomaniac, Catherine (Sarandon), that The Other Side of Midnight really shifts into high gear and becomes the vengeance-fueled bitchfest I was hoping for. Only then does it begin to dawn that - for all its travelogue scenery, half-hearted The Best Years of Our Lives subtext (dramatizing vets struggling to adapt to civilian life), and pseudo-feminist parallels drawn by Catherine's climb up the ladder with her brains contrasted with Noelle's degrading use of her body  - The Other Side of Midnight is mostly fancy window-dressing in service of a diamond-encrusted parable on hell, fury and women scorned.
No Wire Hangers
Even fans of glossy trash have their limits, and this hard-to-watch abortion sequence was a real deal-breaker for many

In a previous post I wrote of my weakness for films whose artistic reach exceeds their grasp. Films whose intentions are at direct odds with their execution. In the case of The Other Side of Midnight: a “love” story, if you can call it that, between two totally reprehensible people (admittedly, poor Noelle doesn’t start out that way); there exists a gross misinterpretation of the source material.

From watching the film and listening to the hilariously on-the-defensive DVD commentary, I’m given the distinct impression that the filmmakers thought they were making an epic love story with a strong, resilient heroine at its center…like Gone with the Wind. Pisier may be a headstrong brunette and Beck sports a dashing pencil mustache, but that is where all similarity ends. Believe me, the self-destructively monomaniacal Noelle Page is no Scarlett O’Hara; Larry, the oafish lout, is no Rhett; and The Other Side of Midnight is no Gone With the Wind…not unless I missed the scene where Scarlett and Ashley make plans to bump off Melanie.
Fatal Attractions
In spite of being an unrepentant jerk of a boyfriend and the worst husband since Guy Woodhouse, Larry has two women who suffer untold agonies to be with him. However, only one of these women is off her rocker.

Given how shabbily she's treated by men, I understand how admirable we are supposed to find it when Noelle decides at last she will no longer be anyone's victim. Everyone harbors at least one revenge fantasy (in my case, several), so it's really a lot of vicarious fun watching Noelle systematically plot and carry out her plans. But, given all she goes through to get back at Larry, her eventual "revenge" is rather toothless and a slap in the face to whatever "empowerment points" we've granted Noelle so far, because after one kiss from him (one of those romance novel "Unhand me you brute!" type of kisses, at that), she turns to mush in his arms. All sympathy for Noelle goes out the window when she demands that Larry kill  his hapless wife, Catherine (who, at this point has been treated so abusively by Larry that the idea seems to benefit HIM more than it does Noelle).
I have a hunch Sidney Sheldon needed some Third Act action and arrived an unsympathetic about-face for Noelle which doesn't wholly support all that came before it. I would have loved to have Noelle and Catherine to eventually meet (at least then the narrative paralleling of their lives would have served a purpose) and, in discovering their mutual woes start and end with the philandering Larry, together plot a way to kill the guy. Now THAT would have been a crowd-pleaser (for me, anyway)!
Larry concocts a batty plan to do away with Catherine

Were The Other Side of Midnight a better film, I would say its moral ambiguity regarding Noelle was intentional (it can’t make up its mind if she is a villain or victim/ her quest for vengeance is sick or empowering) but I really don’t think it is. It’s just one of those overproduced Hollywood “properties” so preoccupied with advancing the plot and giving fans of the book all the glamour, romance, and drama they can muster; no one noticed that the film’s underlying themes come off as comically amoral and wrongheaded, and that the so-called heroine kind of loses her mind somewhere up the ladder of success.
Although The Other Side of Midnight takes place in Europe between 1939 and 1947, war and the events of the world fade into the background for the psychotically single-minded Noelle. Here, seen preening before an open window with a swastika in the distance, Noelle remains blithely oblivious to anyone's suffering but her own.

As Joan Collins would learn four years later with the premiere of the primetime television drama, Dynasty, the bad girls have all the fun and get the best lines. The Other Side of Midnight is no exception. If there's any fun to had in the sometimes drawn-out proceedings that make up the film's dual-story plotline, the fun is to be found in discovering to what lengths Noelle is willing to go to enact her revenge on Larry. That and witnessing her transformation from naive waif to, as one character puts it, "a first-class bitch."
Goodnight and Thank You
Social-climbing Noelle is about to throw over her current director/lover (Christian Marquand) for the bigger fish that is super-rich Greek tycoon, Constantin Demeris.

The late Marie-France Pisier (who first came to the attention of American audiences in the 1975 French comedy, Cousin, Cousine) has the requisite beauty to play the role of a woman who relies almost completely on her desirability to achieve her aims. In this, her first American film, Marie-France is considerably better in dragon-lady mode than in the scenes requiring a conveyance of more subtle emotions. The film was intended to launch her as a major American star, but outside of a few TV mini-dramas, Pisier continued to do her best work in her native country. A true class act, whenever prodded by the press to dish about the tacky film Hollywood chose to launch her US career, Pisier would only say that the studio treated her like a queen and made her feel like a star before she even became one.
The exquisitely beautiful Marie-France Pisier passed away in 2011
Pisier is very appealing, but her performance in The Other Side of Midnight is perhaps too superficial to help the hackneyed narrative rise very far above the suds. For a truly harrowing portrait of obsessive love and a performance that strikes at the self-consuming desperation behind it all, check out actress Isabelle Adjani in Francois Truffaut's The Story of Adele H. (1975). 
The Other Side of Midnight is the parallel story of two women who share the same man but never meet.
Susan Sarandon (two years after The Rocky Horror Picture Show) has a relaxed, natural style that stands out in the starchy surroundings, but she suffers from an underwritten role.

Jay Leno, Larry Douglas, & Clutch Cargo
In popular entertainment, a strong or prominent chin can either signify a hero (Roger Ramjet, Dudley Do-Right), or villain (Dishonest John, Dick Dastardly).
Anyone care to venture a guess as to how many villains we have pictured here?

After sex and illicit romance, the major drawing card for a film such as this is the promise of exotic locales, glamorous costumes, and opulent surroundings. The Other Side of Midnight makes good use of its French and Greek locations (plus a few obvious studio sets), but perhaps at the price of narrative cohesion. The Other Side of Midnight is a film which purports to disapprove of the ways in which people debase themselves for money, but an entirely different, conflicting message is given when the camera lovingly lingers on the material things all that wealth can provide.
My personal favorite image of extravagance: the over-sized backgammon board

I suppose it's because I wasn't around during the heyday of the "Women's Film" (the late 30s & 40s) that the glossy soaps of the '60s and '70s hold so much appeal for me. By and large, they are inferior films in most every aspect beyond the technical, but they represent to me a wholly pleasant diversion and return to an old-fashioned (if not archaic) method of filmmaking we're not likely to see again. 
As the years go by and more and more contemporary films start to take on the arid, distancing look of video games and computer screens; old-fashioned trash cinema like The Other Side of Midnight begins to look better and better. By the way, I have no idea what this film's title means. The Other Side of Midnight  always reminds me of that old Johnny Carson soap opera satire, The Edge of Wetness.
Here We Go Again
Oh, and for those who care about such things - In 1990, the ever-prolific Sidney Sheldon wrote a sequel to The Other Side of Midnight titled, Memories of Midnight. In 1991 it was made into an indifferent TV miniseries starring Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif. 

Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. Blessed with an absolutely gorgeous score by Michel Legrand I am now listening to "Noelle's Theme" as I type this.

    This is another one of my all time guilty pleasures. Upon first viewing I couldn't believe it was a theatrical release because it comes off like a television mini-series despite it's high budget.

    20th Century-Fox had high hopes for this film because of the success of the novel. Fox was releasing another film around this time, one many were not too sure about: "Star Wars".

    They had trouble booking "Star Wars" so they decided that if a theater wanted to run "The Other Side of Midnight" they had to book "Star Wars" first.

    Imagine everyone's surprise when "Midnight" tanked and "Star Wars" went on to become a major global phenomenon!

    Marie France Pisier is a very beautiful woman but her character turns out to be a very unlikeable one. I get that she was a victim of circumstance and was exacting revenge on everyone who did her wrong but her desire to get even with Larry for abandoning her and their unborn child borders on the psychotic.

    John Beck, whose ruggedly handsome looks would land him on two prime time soap operas ("Flamingo Road" and "Dallas") is truly a douche of the highest degree.

    For me the real heroine in all this mess is Susan Sarandon as "Catherine". Sarandon is such a capable, gifted actress and at the absolute height of her beauty when this was made that she rises above the material and all the other actors for that matter.

    I had it on DVD for a bit and then promptly sold it. I won't however part with the film's soundtrack. Legrand's score for this is first class all the way!

  2. Hi PTF
    Yes, the Michel Legrand score is very good. When the film tanked, the soundtrack album was always in plentiful supply in remainder bids at record stores (that's how I got mine!)
    The story of Fox's overconfidence regarding this film's potential success is abject lesson on how out-of-touch the industry can be with popular tastes (and indeed, the film looks SO much like a TV movie, it's hard to imagine - success of the book or not - that they really thought this was going to seize the boxoffice that summer).
    And as for the lead character, who is indeed a nutjob of the first order, it still perplexes me how many see her as a heroine even when she plots to kill the only blameless character in the film (Catherine) On the DVD commentary, author Sheldon says that he got letters from women who named their daughters Noelle because they so admired the character(!)

  3. Ken,
    I'm sorry I still haven't gotten a proper account to comment. Please excuse my anonymity - Argyle here - but I had to respond. Saw this in original release with my college best friend; so many memories. We (mainly me) were chafing in design school in a medium-size southern town, and our relief was to go see EVERYTHING that was released to local theaters. But we would have raced to see this anyway. In that pre-video time, we read aloud from thrift shop copies of "Valley of the Dolls", "The Love Machine" and Harold Robbin's "The Carpetbaggers" for our amusement. You might happen to see one of those on TV, but never in a revival house or even midnight show in those days. So we rushed to see "The Other Side of Midnight" particularly since it had that weird high/low aspect of Marie-France Pisier who we knew was the big-deal french actress of the moment but hadn't actually seen in anything yet. We were sort of disappointed by the movie; not as over-the-top as we hoped. In retrospect, I think we knew that that moment of crazy-bad had passed and we had missed it. But we enjoyed it as best we could. Just the way she says "Noelle Page" was perfection. And she was truly beautiful and magnetic. We were fans of Susan Sarandon, too, mainly from Rocky Horror, which we also loved but were too old to really surrender to, I think. (My roommate, however, who looked a lot like John Beck actually, pretty much took RHPS to heart for better or worse. But that's another story that I actually don't know the ending to.) Anyway, your appreciation of TOSofM brought a lot back for me. Thank you. And interestingly, the person I have spent the last 30 years of life with (and the unforseeable future) was, in a parallel college universe, majorly affected by Isabelle Adjani in "The Story of Adele H." Which I have still never been able to see. There is always something just beyond my grasp. Thank you!

    1. Hi worries on the account thing. I don't fully understand it, anyway. I think you nailed it when you said "we knew that moment of crazy-bad had passed." These kinds of movies got considerably duller as they tried to be authentically epic and "good" and a lot of fun trash was lost along the way. I too LOVE Pisier's accent. It's 100% perfect (I want a loop of her saying "ooh la la" during the dinner scene when Larry says she is marvelous). The untold story you mention about your college roommate and RHPS sounds like essay material, by the way.
      Lastly, it speaks very well of your partner (30 years!!) that "The Story of Adele H" made such an impression. You've got to see it. As always, thanks for your terrific comments. I like how you seem to respond to movies emotionally rather than as time-killers or mere escapism.

  4. Congratulations on your recent mention in The Advocate! Such things I can only dream about... I love reading your appraisals and remembrances here, though I sometimes want to scream because you beat me to a film I am dying to give "the treatment" myself! We clearly have similar taste. I have always enjoyed The Other Side of Midnight for all the reasons you describe above. Revisiting John Beck in his uniform here AFTER having seen him not long ago in the spoof The Big Bus, which had him in a bus driver's get-up, makes me chuckle. There's little difference! Keep up the great work.

    1. Aw, thanks Poseidon. And what do you mean "only dream about?" your blog has a huge following the likes of which I should only be so lucky as to garner. I too think we have similar tastes. I always get a kick out of seeing a favorite of mine given your "treatment" which is always so informative and mirror so many of my own feelings. I remember Jeff Beck being the given the big push in the 70s. He was such an annoying husband in "Audrey Rose"...added with this he could never shake the creep factor for me. I think "The Big Bus" and "Sleeper" were his lightest roles. Thanks again for the kind words!

    2. I bet Susan Sarandon would love to get this film scrubbed from her filmography! Sounds like campy fun, though. And in a weird way (considering I'm unfamiliar with the novel or the film), the plot suggests Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun to me (the idea of a woman ruthlessly re-inventing herself and rising from the ashes of WWII, etc).

    3. You bet your life. Although she has nothing to be ashamed of with her performance here, Sarandon is such a naturalistic actress she seems out of place in the starchy surroundings. I have never seen that Fassbinder film, I might have to seek it out! Thanks

  5. Hi Ken,

    A perceptive piece on this claptrap entertainment. I don't have much to add but I did see this in the theatre when it came out not having read the book and found it a beautiful looking trash wallow. Both my father and sister had read the book and loved it and assured me that next to it the movie was garbage.

    Still as I said beautiful looking garbage and I miss this kind of location shooting now when filmmakers think that recreating the cities via CGI is the same thing. It's not, you lose the organic feel of the streets and building that come with natural age and ambient surroundings.

    Marie France Pisier was an incredibly stunning woman but I recall thinking she felt uncomfortable, little wonder with the requirements of the script and having to try and make those believable in a foreign tongue. The performer who impressed me the most, and if I recall correctly was the only one to receive good notices, was Susan Sarandon. She was nowhere near as famous as she is today and I had only a vague familiarity with her, I think at that time I had only seen her in The Last of the Belles on TV. She managed to rise above the ridiculous situations she found herself in and give a decent performance. I think it was right after this that her career really started to take off, which was certainly not so for the rest of the starring lineup.

    1. Hi Joel
      Nice to hear from you again! I actually wish I had seen this in the theater when it came out. It looked terrible, but I know know that I would have fallen in love with its tackiness.
      I think you're right about why CGI just seems to "lack" something when applied to a movie...that whole thing about directors striving for verisimilitude in the false trappings of motion pictures is completely lost when surroundings are all CGI (The CGI rendering of 30s New York in that "King Kong" remake comes to mind). Even those fake looking backlot streets play better than CGI. You at least feel the actors inhabit a genuine space.
      I like Sarandon in this too. She's so natural a performer she seems to be in another film completely. In his entire career I've only found Clu Gulager to have been effective in "The Last Picture Show", but he was one of those guys you almost couldn't avoid on 70s TV.
      I like good/bad films like "The Other Side of Midnight," but listening to the almost clinical level of delusion on the DVD commentary ( I forget if its the producer) it makes me shake my head. The pop culture enjoyment of trash doesn't magically transform trash into something of's often just an expression of society having a sense of humor about itself.

  6. Hi Ken, I just realized that you had reviewed this film that I had seen a few months ago. It's fascintaing to read your take on it as there are some things about this film that I don't quite understand.

    I did not think I would be able to stand to watch this over two hours long movie but I found it entertaining. I enjoyed it even though Noelle goes from heroine to villain,as you point out in your review. The film does leave a sour aftertaste because few of the characters are sympathetic. Strange that the handsome leads would turn out to be quite distatefull characters! I think it is this reason why the filmed bombed, not because of "Star Wars". Teenage boys were never going to see "Other Side of Midnight" anyway! I think you are right about how they should have changed the ending to make the characters more appealing, or at least believable.

    I remember that people talked about this film as being bad but having one shocking scene in it that they were fascinated by. I don't know if people were stunned by what lengths Noelle goes to to seek revenge or if it is was the wire hanger scene or if it was the wicked attempt to murder at the end of the film.

    I thought Marie-France Pisier did the best one could do with a difficult unsympatheic part. She was classy despite it all! It's funny how Susan Sarandon's career was not harmed by this film at all. It could have ended it but it proves that flop movies don't necessarily destroy an actors reputation.

    1. Hi Wille
      Yes, I think the whole "heroine to villain" thing is interesting. I recently saw Joan Crawford in "Possessed" and in that she plays a woman who, once wronged, goes from being a somewhat sympathetic victim to a villainess. But in that film the filmmakers make it clear that she is unhinged.
      I think they tried to go for the feel of one of those "wronged woman" stories from the 40s; but for me, things get a bit muddled. I'm not even sure why. It's just odd the have such an unlikable male lead (Larry) and a beautiful and charismatic female lead (Pisier) who sways our sympathies.
      In the end, it doesn't feel like a great romance, or much of a grand tragedy. I was just mad that Noel was so quick to forgive Larry.
      I don't know that I'm at all right about what would have worked, mostly I just know that Noel is never as evil to me as Larry is, and since he's the object of her affection, that makes her look more foolish and crazier in my eyes than is probably intended.

      I too think Pisier is as good as could be hoped. And it is kind of miraculous that Sarandon emerged from this mess totally unscathed. Many people I suspect forget she's even in it!
      Sounds like you've been looking at a lot of fun movies lately, Wille. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us here!

    2. Yes, I think you nailed it there when you say that Noel seems foolish to go after Larry the cad since he's an unsympathetic stuffed shirt. It undermines her character and I think that many who watch it can't identify with those two, however good looking they are. It's cheating the audience not being able to root for her as things go along.

      Susan's character seems to get mixed up in all of this without knowing what's going on between Noel and Larry and that makes her seem weak.

      Your site is a treasure chest of fab movies! I've been going back and reading some of your older reviews. Great fun!