...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

All Through the Night (1941)
(released a week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor)

One of the first things that one's taught in film school is to ignore the filmmaker's intent when analyzing a movie. I state this here, because I have no idea what the filmmaker's intent was when crafting this uneven bizarre bite of anti-Nazi propaganda.

Vince Sherman seems to have a dream cast -- Bogart, Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Jackie Gleason, and Phil Silvers -- but instead of using it well, the film relies on batches of stereotypes (cowboys, blacks, Irish, Germans, mothers, etc.) to tell a story with a clear plot but confused head.

Veidt and Lorre are rather refreshing as Nazi spies, since the actors emote in German and English equally well. Plus they have the only believable accents. Bogie plays a bit of a dope and does a refreshingly good job. Phil Silvers in an early role is painfully unfunny, but a young Jackie Gleason holds a relaxed welcoming screen presence.

Ignoring whatever the potential inent may have been, the movie bespeaks the following themes: American criminals are patriotic redeemable louts while Germans are just louts. Cops are funny because they're inept. And you should fear a terrorist attack on American soil.**

The premise is basic -- A bunch of gamblers and thugs team up to stop Nazi terrorism in the US, with the help of a mysterious woman trying to save her parents' lives -- but the film never settles on a consistent tone. It slips slapstick between executions, so tension is never successfully developed. Thus the climax falls flat when Bogie infiltrates the Nazi meeting and everyone is played for an idiot. It fizzles when it should sizzle.

Kaaren Verne, as the female lead, embodies the main problem with the film in her dull, strange performance. At first I thought she was trying another of the film's bad accents, until I realized that she had at least one speech impediment. This is exploited during the obligatory nightclub music scene where she (a singer of course) bursts into songs full of 'L's and 'R's that she can't possibly pronounce -- Aw fwoo fa noiwt wif you. The horrible urge to laugh can't be denied since the movie has been directed comical thus far. But she and the band play it straight. One has to wonder, in an age when cross-eyed people were still played for laughs in movies, how's an audience supposed to react when an impeded person has to verbally walk on tacks through torch songs?

Is this a parody on other films' scenes of lovely ladies crooning in clubs? The lyrics of the songs (by Johnny Mercer) are neither funny nor full of corn. It's all played straight. Yet it is undeniably unusual. And one feels as if her speech problem is being played for laughs.

In the end this exemplifies how the movie's final tonal unevenness rings false. When Gloves the Gambler slips and falls, its a gag. When the Kaaren's father dies in Dachau, it's a......plot point?

** -- related sentence included in order to have this site appear on more Google searches

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