The Other Side of Midnight
Dir. Charles Jarrott
Premiered June 8, 1977
For 20th Century Fox executive Gareth Wigan, 1931-2010
Full disclosure: from here on, when we talk about 1977, we’re going to have to talk about Star Wars. 1977 is not a particularly great year for movies, but it is a historically important point in the evolution of Hollywood, and that’s mostly because of Star Wars. This is even more true of The Other Side of Midnight. Based on an immensely popular novel, both 20th Century Fox and theater owners fully expected it to be a massive hit, and the studio had to force theaters to screen Star Wars in order to also screen this film.
This is the only reason The Other Side of Midnight is still remembered.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Noelle (Marie-France Pisier) moves to Paris to become a fashion model, where she meets Larry (John Beck), an American volunteer in the Canadian Air Force. Naturally, the two fall in love over just two weeks before he goes on a mission, never to return. Fearing him dead, Noelle finds out that Larry is actually a serial philanderer, and upon finding herself pregnant with his child, she administers a DIY abortion that is incredibly hard to watch– and not for the reasons director Charles Jarrott intended.
Instead, Noelle sleeps her way to stardom in the French film industry and uses a private detective to keep Larry from finding work as a commercial pilot when the war is over, by which time he has met and married a striking young wartime propagandist (Susan Sarandon). Finally, Larry finds work as a private pilot for Greek tycoon Constantine Demeris (Raf Vallone), who just happens to be Noelle’s new husband.
It’s hard to know where to start with The Other Side of Midnight. I don’t know how faithful it is to Sidney Sheldon’s novel, but I suspect it’s a little too similar to the source material, including multiple sequences with no bearing on the overall plot in an already long movie. Here, we’re treated to Sarandon’s character Catherine coming to Washington DC to start her job, Noelle being pimped out by her father in Marseille before running away to Paris, and Constantin being ingratiated into Parisian high society at the beginning of the war.
That’s not to mention the multiple plot holes: most notably, how is Noelle able to become a popular film star in Paris while under German occupation? Most baffling of all is a barely present framing device in which Noelle confesses the entire story to Constantin while under arrest for murder– the same framing device used decades later in another terrible melodrama, Vanilla Sky. And every line of dialogue is ridiculously forced, like a robot trying to sound like a hack romance novelist (example: “you drink so much, why don’t you put a straw in the bottle?” “Because it might just be the last straw!”). The result is a bizarre cross between Casablanca and Valley of the Dolls. To say nothing of the production itself: The Other Side of Midnight is stagy and overproduced. Every interior is overlit like a soap opera, every frame shot through a telephoto lens.
Pisiers bawls and whines every line like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China– and it’s all meant to be taken seriously. Adding insult to injury, she’s forced to pantomime her way through the flattest, most clinical sex scenes I’ve ever seen in film, presumably for the benefit of teenage boys and middle-aged moms in the audience. As for Beck, it’s impossible to tell if he’s acting badly or not at all. Larry is supposed to be an irresistible bad boy, but comes off as a leaden oaf. His romance with Noelle lasts ten minutes, and never for a moment is it believable. Perhaps this is why, when one of Larry’s compatriots break the news to Noelle that he wasn’t really interested in her, it comes off as a cruel joke rather than actual exposition. Sarandon is the one bright note in the main cast, who, mostly confined to their own sprawling plot cul-de-sacs, rarely actually interact.
Signs This Was Made in 1977
The inclusion of nudity, and the presence of the then-bizarrely-popular Greek tycoon archetype, are the only indications this was made in 1977. The production design, cinematography, and music evoke high melodrama of the sort Jeff Chandler used to headline in the 1950s. And all of this in a movie set between 1939 and 1947.
How Did It Do?
According to its Wikipedia page, The Other Side of Midnight was critically acclaimed. No citation was given for this claim, and I have yet to find a review from the time that wasn’t completely scathing, though it did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.
The film did make a profit, earning $24.7 million against a $9 million budget, but not being the massive success that 20th Century Fox anticipated was enough to condemn it to the dustbin of history, being far outsold that summer by Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit, and…
Next Time: A Bridge Too Far