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|
|Father Knows Worst|
"Noelle, war is coming...you 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?
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.
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.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
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 STUFF OF FANTASY
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|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
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.
Copyright © Ken Anderson
Copyright © Ken Anderson