Middle Of The Night, 1959. 9/10

Pretty complicated romantic drama with a worthy cast. Betty Preisser (Kim Novak) is recently divorced from George (Lee Phillips), and pursued by much older widower Jerry Kingsley (Frederic March). The Kingsley’s have their own issues–daughter Lillian Englander (Joan Copeland) and sister Evelyn (Edith Merber) compete for Jerry’s attention. Lillian’s husband Jack (Martin Balsam) encourages the Jerry-Betty romance, while there’s plenty of noise from others who figure Betty’s too young and too low-class for him.

Betty’s certainly getting her share of pre-feminist unwarranted attention. At the Kingsley’s, Rosalind Neiman (Betty Walker) pretty much sucks up all the energy with a lot of motormouth-fueled name-dropping. Evelyn and Lillian are sort of looking on bemusedly, watching the effects of their match-making on Jerry.

But nonchalant Jerry is going on about his partner Walter, who, despite being older and very married, is obsessed with younger women. Anyway, Jerry has to swing by Betty’s to get some paperwork. She’s upset about her collapsing marriage, rather, her husband’s attempt to reconstitute it “We’d both march into the bedroom like it was a gas chamber.” Apparently, she never loved him…until now, she thinks, maybe.

Anyway, Jerry takes on a paternal role with her, which it seems is what she wanted. He leaves her with “you’re such a pretty girl.” Next thing, at work, Walter is sounding more disgusting talking about “tootsies.” Suddenly Jerry is falling all over himself to hang out with Betty. (We get a stock-footage street scene, noticeable as all the vehicles relate to the eatrly/late ’40s, not early/late ’50s).

Jerry seems very nervous; but on their fourth date, Betty pretty much says they shouldn’t continue seeing each other (since he’s her boss and all…). Still, he tells her his life story–sort of desperately trying to keep her interest–he realizes, though, that she’s probably right “someone will get hurt.” He can’t help saying that he’s in love with her; strangely, he still agrees that they shouldn’t keep it up. Ok, now she’s desperate.

They do some work together; almost everything he says seems either worthy of her pity or her admiration. And then they start making out thoroughly. Maybe with the feel of having too much too soon, she goes to the country with him for the weekend. On the way, he starts babbling about marriage; so she blows up, but quickly chills out.

As they arrive at the cabin, they’re laughing manically at his dumb dumb-waiter jokes. But, then, instant cute moment. It’s New Year’s Eve, and at the lodge party that night, Jerry’s leads a toast to his “future wife.” They leave with her guiding his off-the-hook drunk self away. Interestingly, she’s good with the marriage idea. On the way back to New York, he confesses, “I love you more than I can tell you.”

Back at her place, mom isn’t exactly happy at the news. Anyway, Jerry comes calling, and mom quips “he’s no Spencer Tracy.” She’s just getting up steam, as he’s now “a dirty old man.” He tells Walter about marrying Betty; thankfully, Walter’s congratulatory. Nonetheless, Jerry is very conflicted. Valiantly, Walter convincingly relates that all of his joviality is put-on, he tells Jerry to go for happiness and not settle for being miserable.

Back at the Kingsley’s it’s gossip-city. Lillian spars with Evelyn’s disdainful attitude “don’t take out your neurotic anxieties on him.” Jack’s supportive too; but Evelyn won’t be denied her hag speech, as though she knows him better than he does. With excellent righteousness, Jerry says that it’s none of her business, and, the capper, “shut up.” He’s right, he “doesn’t have to justify himself.” Like Walter, Jack thinks there’s no problem. Lillian backtracks, and starts sounding like her aunt.

More live-and-let-live from Jack (to his wife) “Your father needs you like a hole-in-the-head!” Despite all this drama, the engagement party does occur (is that a rack of lamb, or a dinosaur carcass Jerry carves?). Then, an office party, everyone’s very well-lubricated. It’s just a touch nutty, but she’s ok with everything.

For some reason, he gets preachy; and more than a little condescending. She’s still very lit up when she gets home; facing (guess what?) more backtalk from her mom and sister. Both Betty and Jerry are taking body- blows from their families. Alice even tells her to look up the ex-husband, George (Lee Phillips). She does let on that she feels Jerry is getting fussy.

With a stupid macho touch of stubbornness, Jerry pushes everyone aside to move a huge parcel. Next problem: they go to a club were George is known; predictably, Jerry is going nuts with jealousy and doubt (he feels he has to compete with George). Now, a full-blast arguement. She wants to “call it off.” He admits he’s too jealous, but his ‘goodnight’ is literally “get away from me!” But, wait, he scurries up after her to genuinely apologize.

Now, a bigger problem–George is not only in town, he’s hanging out at her place. He looks just fine, and she? “You look great” is his first comment. (Novak does looks outstanding in her black dress.) He even wishes her luck in her marriage. But, she’s not glad to see him: “Why don’t you look me up, George?” and “We were just a couple of animals.”

But then she melts, and admits that if he’d come back a few months sooner she would’ve “run back” to him. “I’m tired of being desirable!” is the problem. She starts motor-mouthing, she’s really at loose ends, and tells George that she “wants to run away.” But what happens is that, next morning in the park, in the snow, she meets Jerry. Now she tells Jerry the she and George made love. “I’m getting out of here before there’s nothing left of me at all!”

When he gets home, other than giving sister and daughter a rough sketch, he doesn’t want to talk. But, he’s too twisted-up to resist a derisive bit of self-mockery when Evelyn starts mothering him “I’m too old to eat candy!” And very poignantly, “I want to be loved by a woman! That want dies hard!” Her crying: the phone rings.

A needed distraction: Walter tried to kill himself. He knows exactly how Walter feels and, when he gets to the scene, lights into Walter’s less than enlightened son “Who in the hell wants peace!!” (Walter has been with a prostitute, as he’s been bored with domesticity). Very stridently, but also very eloquently, Jerry goes on about how love is “a sweet and wonderful torture.” And, damning the torpedoes, he goes straight to Betty’s, confessing his love for her with the most difficult mix of sad, pitiful and hopeful faces. She’s fine with him after all. The good and happy end.

This is incredibly powerful stuff. Very sad, and very uplifting too. The dialogue was excellent–I’m thinking mostly of Novak and Phillips here–but for the supporting cast too. It’s not all heavy-lifting, either, as the parallel scenes of both families disparaging Jerry and Betty’s relationship, and especially their planned marriage, are agonisingly funny. Walter’s role also has a parallel, in that he’s an exaggerated version of Jerry, at times, a caricature of him.

George’s character might seem superfluous; but since Betty is so conflicted herself, his prescence makes an alternative to Jerry not only plausible, but tangible as well. The fact that George is remarkably both on-the-level and emotionally vulnerable adds a lot of depth to his scenes with Betty. In other words, we could easily see an alternative story in which Betty does go back to him.

The difference between love and falling in love is shown as well. Novak is extremely alluring, but more importantly for her character’s development, she also shows the confusion and trials of love convincingly. Grant’s role is even more nuanced, as his emotions rocket in a universe of orbits–from simple attraction, guilt, condescension, sympathy, remorse, to gratitude, and finally, clarity and devotion.

Nothing comes easy here; if love is indeed a game, the rules have been lost. Very entertaining and rewarding to see such authentic portrayals of people in and out of love. Worth more than one viewing

[Farmermouse liked the party scenes, so he gives Middle of the Night nine high-balls. 9/10.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.