Joseph Abraham reviews Night of the Following Day – Marlon Brando plays a kidnapping criminal in this Reservoir Dog-esque thriller.
Hubert Cornfield’s crime thriller, Night of the Following Day (1968), plays as both a taut crime film and surreal art-house one. It follows a young heiress who is kidnapped by a group of criminals that demand a large ransom from her father. These criminals include the archetypes of the psychopath who hides his sadism beneath a detached veneer, the insecure boss of the kidnapping, a drug addicted female accomplice and the unnamed chauffeur (Marlon Brando). They take the heiress to a remote house on the beach, in France, and keep her there for the remainder of the film incurring an international police man-hunt. It doesn’t take long to realise this assortment of flawed and unstable criminals will turn violently on each other. This set-up would definitely have influenced Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), as it explores, like that film, criminals trapped in an isolated location, betrayal, hard-boiled dialogue and a crime that spins radically out of control.
The film moulds a repeated crime genre scenario with minimalist dialogue and art-house direction that alludes to the films of Jean Pierre Melville (Le Samourai, Un Flic) with its characters who speak volumes through their looks and expressions rather than dialogue. The film’s further debt to Melville is the fact that the events revolve around the oppressive atmosphere and characters rather than a pulsating narrative. An oppressive mood is sustained throughout of depressed people trapped in a location they cannot escape. The film is less about the kidnapping than an exploration of people who implode as a result of their own flawed personalities. The isolated quality of the house keeps them enclosed in a world they cannot escape, symbolically representing the characters own inability to escape their various desires and flaws.
The film’s originality lies in the fact that it explores mental punishment rather than physical punishment with the criminals self-imploding through their own guilt and fragile emotional states. This is in stark contrast to archetypal crime thrillers which usually explore how remorseless criminals, after committing crimes, face punishment through physical external forces, as in classics like Bonnie and Clyde, The Killing (1956) and Heat in which all the criminals end up killed by the police. This is another similarity that the film shares with Reservoir Dogs in which the criminals’ downfall is contained with their own volatile personalities.
One of most compelling elements of the film is the surrealist atmosphere that pervades it: it does not feel like a realistic crime thriller but rather a nightmare in which the characters and events remain unpredictable. In some ways it acts like modern fairy-tale (Cinderella, Snow White) in which different characters fit into fantasy archetypes: Marlon Brando as the symbolic handsome knight who comes to the aid of the heiress eventually; the monstrous antagonist played by Richard Boone, the heiress playing the role of the captured princess who is innocent and trapped within the castle (symbolised by the isolated beach house) and the secondary female character representing the dangerous seductress or witch who is both physically attractive but morally repugnant (burdening a sexual jealously, drug addiction and mental instability in the vein of The Queen from Grimm Brother’s Snow White). This link to the surreal is confirmed by the film’s final twist.
Night of the Following Day is a multi-layered film that plays as both a crime genre piece but also a nightmarish fantasy. The film is worth a watch for those interested in a superior cult-film but also those wanting see a key influence on Reservoir Dogs.