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Middle of the Night [1959 film]

by Delbert Mann

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Middle of the Night (1959)

Fredric March – Jerry Kingsley
Kim Novak – Betty Preisser

Albert Dekker – Walter Lockman
Edith Meiser – Evelyn Kingsley
Joan Copeland – Lillian Englander
Martin Balsam – Jack Englander
Glenda Farrell – Mrs Mueller
Lee Philips – George Preisser
Lee Grant – Marylin

Screenplay by Paddy Chayevsky, based on his play (1956)
Directed by Delbert Mann

Black and white. 118 min.


There’s an old European saying: I’m an old man, and I’ve had many troubles. And most of them never happened.

This movie is an extremely powerful cocktail of drama, melodrama and tragedy. I really don’t know why it is not much better known. (The pedestrian title perhaps? Or the frank depiction of all too human frailty?) A depressed man’s passionate affair with an immature woman more than twice younger is hardly the most original subject, but that doesn’t make it less relevant – and timeless.

Kim Novak reportedly claimed this was her favourite role, and if so I can see why. It’s an immensely affecting performance of a part that can easily be made into something insufferable. It certainly and completely belies the cliché that Kim was nothing more than a pretty ornament. Fredric March, surely one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century, is just as outstanding as the middle-aged, overworked, lonely, short-tempered and sexually frustrated Jerry Kingsley. Compare this with his equally stunning performance of a completely different character in The Desperate Hours (1955). I have no idea how some reviewers decided there is no chemistry between March and Novak. Balls! The make the screen sizzle and scorch.

The supporting cast is one of the finest you will ever see. Edith Meiser as the nagging sister, Lee Grant as the daughter more interested in her father than in her husband, Martin Balsam as the unfortunately neglected husband and, above all, Albert Dekker as the tragic old lecher leave nothing to be desired. Watch out for Dekker’s big monologue. Even such minor parts like Betty’s so-called mother, her envious best friend or Jerry’s colleagues are beautifully done.

I don’t want to neglect the direction and the cinematography, for both bring New York of the 1950s very much to life, but most of the credit must go to Paddy Chayefsky for his brilliant screenplay. He created scenes and characters that stay with you, or at least with me, long after the final credits. Not one of them rings false, including the most sentimental examples. “Sentimentality”, Somerset Maugham wrote in 1941, “is only sentiment that rubs you up the wrong way.” Anyway, most of Paddy’s lines have become hardly dated for the last nearly sixty years. Some examples by way of conclusion:

Jerry Kingsley: I can’t tell you how often recently I’ve found myself thinking about dying. “Dying” to you is something that happens to old relatives, but it’s a very intimate business to me. I don’t expect you to understand this, but in those moments when I’m suddenly impossible to live with, that’s probably what’s at the bottom of my bad temper.

Walter Lockman: And when they bury me, they can put on the gravestone, “This was a big waste of time.”

Jerry Kingsley: What the hell is wrong with everybody? All they want is peace, comfort, security, no problems. Well, life is problems, heartache, passion, a woman. Listen, sonny boy, love, no matter how shabby it may seem, is still a beautiful thing. Everything else is nothing… I’m sick to death, George; running around with a young woman myself. The last couple of months have been torture to me, such a sweet and wonderful torture. I was living, Joey. There was never enough hours in the day for me. I had such a passion for everything. I was living. ( )
  Waldstein | Aug 28, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Delbert Mannprimary authorall editionscalculated
Balsam, Martinmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, Leemain authorsome editionsconfirmed
March, Fredricmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Novak, Kimmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dekker, Albertsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farrell, GlendaActorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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