Monday, March 22, 2010


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol. 2 collection goes back further in time than its companion volume to revive Henry Levin's 66-minute feature, the only film of the four collected here to be listed in Silver and Ward's noir encyclopedia. Night Editor is a kind of failed pilot for what Columbia Pictures intended as another series of B-movies based on a radio program. The Night Editor himself would be the narrator, recollecting stories to keep the graveyard shift at his great metropolitan newspaper entertained and possibly imparting moral lessons to younger members of the staff in the process.

Charles D. Brown is the Night Editor!

Night Editor is a very cheap and foolhardy movie. The cheapness really comes through in the opening that introduces us to the Night Editor and his cronies at the Daily Star. This sequence is filmed in one master shot. When the script calls for Levin to cut to a close-up, you can tell from the film grain that he's simply zooming into a section of the master. DVDs are unforgiving of such stuff, and I shudder to think of what Blu-Ray would do to the poor film. The foolhardiness comes from the decision to make the main story a period piece set during the days of Prohibition. Some things it gets right (cars, telephones), but every character you see looks straight out of 1946. That's most true of our femme fatale, the slightly crazy Jill Merrill (Janis Carter), who's having a slumming affair with schlubby cop Tony Cochrane (William Gargan). Jill looks like no flapper I ever saw, and the production's ignorance or disinterest in period costume leaves you wondering why they'd even think of doing a period piece until you realize that there's got to be a present-day payoff somewhere.

That Janis Carter is another Louise Brooks, a veritable personification of the flaming youth of the Roaring Twenties -- I don't think.

Tony is cheating on his wife and feeling guilty about it, but he can't give up the vamp. "Do you want blood?" he asks Jill at one point. "Yes!" she insists. She really does seem bloodthirsty, too, though not that literally. When their lovers' lane tryst is interrupted by another car carrying a girl and her murderer, Jill has a sudden crazed urge to see the body. The noir encyclopedia makes a big deal of this, seeing sexual arousal in her reaction to the murder, but the story itself eventually reveals an even baser motive behind her curiosity. For Tony, the problem is that he can't function as a cop despite witnessing a murder. As Jill warns him, reporting the crime or even pursuing the criminal would be a confession of his affair that he can't bear to make. If anything, he ends up obstructing the investigation -- and a more clever film might have exploited this by having his cop colleagues begin to suspect him of the crime. But the writers think themselves clever enough for suggesting that Tony's compromised investigation is exactly what someone intended.

"Stop! Or I'll ... ... Alright, then; don't stop!"

Gargan made a good hardboiled radio detective, but in this film his hangdog guiltstrickenness suggests Lon Chaney Jr. on a slow day. It's a one-note performance that doesn't earn our hero much compassion. In fact, I felt annoyed when what looked like his comeuppance turned out to be a setup for a happy epilogue. As Jill, Janis Carter is a monster, a pure predator apart from some late-revealed psychological issues. "I don't know why I do things sometimes" she says before stabbing someone with an icepick and repenting immediately. She's attractive in that icy way, though, and helps keep this thing watchable. The Night Editor gimmick obviously wore out its welcome instantly, perhaps because the producers went too far in tying the story of Tony Cochrane to the lives of some of the newsroom characters. There's simply too much of the news crew in the film, and the idea that someone in the office'd learn something from each little Night Editor anecdote probably had audiences begging for less.

Still, there's no point in denying that Night Editor is a film noir, it's "never mind" epilogue notwithstanding. It's dark, it has a femme fatale, and it boasts a guilt-stricken compromised hero. It's just not a good noir. Bad Girls Vol. 1 taught us, however, that some films didn't have to be noir to be good, so I hold out hope for the remaining three films, which form a Cleo Moore film festival, along with a half-hour "All-Star Theater" episode included as an extra on disc one. She's highlighted in Hugo Haas's One Girl's Confession and Lewis Seiler's Women's Prison and Over-Exposed. We'll learn more about these efforts in the near future.

No trailer for this one, but one joelcairo just yesterday uploaded the whole movie to YouTube in seven installments for those who remain curious.

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