The Big Night
Details: (PG), 75 mins , United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: George LeMain's (John Drew Barrymore) world is thrown into turmoil and doubt when his father Andy (Preston Foster) offers no resistence as he is beaten by mobstrer and standover man Al Judge (Howard St. John). Enraged, he disappears into the city's underbelly to settle the score and prove his manhood.
Joseph Losey’s film noir a metaphor for McCarthyism.
Director Joseph Losey’s final Hollywood movie before he fled to Europe to escape the Senator Joseph McCarthy-led witch hunt is a dark, over-ripe melodrama which starred 18-year-old John Drew Barrymore, son of legendary actor John Barrymore.
Based on the Stanley Ellin novel Dreadful Summit, the screenplay by Ellin and Losey spans 24 hours in the life of tortured teenager George La Main (Barrymore). George is celebrating his birthday (we’re not told which, presumably his 17th) in his father Andy’s bar when a man bursts in and beats the crap out of his dad with his cane, for no apparent reason.
The assailant is high-profile sports columnist Al Judge (Howard St. John). His dad (a wooden Preston Foster) meekly submits, and no one in the crowded bar lifts a finger to help him. A distressed George vows revenge and sets out to look for Judge, taking his dad’s gun. He meets up with a sozzled professor, Dr. Cooper (Philip Bourneuf), and they join the prof’s embittered girlfriend Julie (Dorothy Comingore) in the Florida Club and later repair to Julie’s apartment which she shares with her super-nice sister Marion (Joan Lorring).
There’s a jarring, racist scene outside the nightclub when George is smitten with the black singer and tells her, “You’re so beautiful, even if you are a…” His voice trails off as she blanches at the insult, and he apologises. Just why the prof would befriend the callow youth, why Julie would go out with such a pompous jerk, why Marion would take an instant shine to George, and why he would go looking for Judge in the newspaper’s press room aren’t explained.
Eventually George confronts Judge, discovers why his dad got a whipping, and they scuffle over the gun. From there, the plot takes several unexpected twists. Barrymore (Drew’s dad) is well suited to playing a naïve, confused, earnest young man who becomes increasingly desperate, but the plot holes undermine the dramatic build-up.
The bar-room beating was widely seen as a metaphor for the punishment handed out by red-baiting bullies such as Senator McCarthy.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
This December, we're celebrating Oz film by screening four classic titles.
Our monthly snapshot of upcoming movies at the cinema.
Marc Fennell dabbles in the dark side, with a season devoted to Very Bad Deeds.