Arrow Video: So Dark the Night (1946) - Reviewed

Arrow Video has a real knack for finding obscure releases that not even the Criterion Collection would put out and making them somehow something more than they originally would have been in a regular release. Most of their mainline releases (branded as "video nasties") are insanely lower budget B-flicks that most people today wouldn't even think twice about watching had they not been given the proper treatment and attention. Then there's Arrow Academy, which is closer in selection to Criterion, a label by Arrow that releases more refined, sometimes even artsier films both English and foreign that, again, would have otherwise gone unnoticed in today's cinematic community. So Dark the Night finds some strange happy medium between the two: a noir film with B-movie qualities that nonetheless has A-list aspirations. 

It's absurdly perfunctory in its runtime: at a measly 70 minutes, you would have to wonder what kind of story could be told with such a limited timespan. For part of its time, you may be right- it does take its sweet time introducing its players to us to allow sufficient acquaintance with their presence and a familiarity that sticks with the viewer. There's even a strange, maybe even a little bit forced, romance stuck in there for the sake of the plot, but it all comes around in what is probably one of the most insane twists I've ever seen in a movie. It makes almost no sense in context, but at the same time it does- paving the way for future crime films that have yet to copy its profound sense of mystery. 

Its central detective of French descent sports a hilariously bad accent that may or may not have been part of Hungarian-born actor Steven Geray's own natural intonation; but, regardless of its efforts (or lack thereof), it's a startling sound that almost takes you directly out of the picture's European setting- just almost. The setting for So Dark the Night is confined and limited in open space- allowing for a claustrophobic tone to overtake the picture once the central mystery begins rolling. It's fairly procedural in the unfolding of its investigations- something I appreciate seeing in my crime movies. No stone is left unturned, every piece of evidence is gathered and examined so that nothing is out of the question by the time its big reveal comes undone.

Although perhaps best known for the 1950 crime noir Gun Crazy, Joseph H. Lewis has a solidly entertaining thriller on his hands here that shouldn't be overlooked by fans of the film-noir genre. Predating the latter by four years, it's appropriately dark and moody in its tone without overdoing it, even dealing in some fairly heavy themes of suicide with a somewhat frank discussion over it for a film from this era. Arrow offered up a fantastic restoration, as to be expected, along with an enlightening brief video essay on Lewis and his time at Columbia Pictures, along with some interesting tidbits on the studio's own films it focused on at the time. So Dark the Night is a good time for poking fun at its B-movie qualities while simultaneously marveling at how it handles its greater attributes. For that it might be one of the most perplexing efforts to be found in the noir genre, if not a solid entry to be found.

-Wes Ball