Hi ho, movie lovers.
What do authors Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann and Sidney Sheldon have in common?
Quite a bit, actually.
All three are best selling novelists of dubious talent. All three authors detail the sex and shenanigans of the smart set. All three authors have seen their best sellers turned into movies--bad movies. In fact, if it's announced that a tome from one of these authors is about to hit the silver screen, you can guarantee it will be bad to the bone.
Which is exactly what "The Other Side of Midnight", based on the best seller by Sidney Sheldon, is: bad to the bone. How can we ever thank him?
Confused French gamine Noelle Page (Marie-France Pisier) arrives is Paris.
Indeed, "The Other of Side of Midnight" has everything EVERYTHING! a bad movie fanatic could want and even more.
I call this genre of Junk Cinema "Time Spanning Trash" because the authors need decades in order to cram in every possible preposterous event they can think of to befall their characters. Thus, in Time Spanning Trash, you'll see wars, revolutions and social upheavals; trite dialog spoken in a variety of accents (real and fake); fancy foreign locations; good looking people who are dumber than rocks; sleazy sex scenes; ham-bone acting; fictional characters based (very) thinly on real people; improbable plot twists; a throbbing musical score and plenty of opportunities for the female cast to strut around in furs, jewels and big hats.
"The Other Side of Midnight" begins before the dawn of WWII in France. Sweet young thing Noelle Page (Pisier) thinks her beloved daddy has arranged for her to work in a fancy dress shop. After a few weeks on the job, her boss Lanchon (Sorrell Booke, best known as the white suited Boss Hog from "The Dukes of Hazzard") tells her she can pick out a free dress. Delighted, Noelle is posing in front of a mirror when Lanchon begins groping her from behind and suggesting they hit the sheets. Horrified, Noelle runs home and learns dear old dad has actually sold her to Lanchon to be his live-in employee/mistress.
"France is about to go to war!" he exclaims. "Your beauty is your only weapon!" Besides, Lanchon paid a good price for Noelle; now dad has a new bike.
Heart broken, Noelle trudges back to the dress shop and climbs into bed with the portly Lanchon. While her boss pumps away on top of her (giving the audience a wide screen view of his hairy back), Noelle assumes the look of someone hit in the back of the head with a lead skillet. Hard. Get use to it; she assumes this expression a lot.
While her hairy pig/boss sleeps, Noelle packs up her things and heads for Paris. She isn't there 10 seconds when a nasty cab driver speeds away with her suitcase and all her money. Broke and exhausted, she sits down in a fancy hotel to rest and is picked up by flying ace Larry Douglas (Jeff Beck). When Noelle insists "I'm not a whore!", Larry replies, "You're kidding!" Then he sweeps her off to a charming little bistro and then to his flat, where they make whoopski and fall madly in love.
After three weeks for dining, dancing, strolling hand in hand, riding bikes and visiting the Eiffel Tower, Larry (who is an American serving in the Canadian Air Force) must leave. Noelle is distraught; when will she see him again? He tells her he'll be back on November 17th and to meet him at their favorite bistro. Larry also tells the tearful Noelle to buy a wedding dress because he plans to marry her when he returns.
Well, Noelle does as she's told. She also manages to get a job as a house model for the kindly Madame Rosa (Josette Banzet). However, when November 17th comes around and Larry doesn't show up, Noelle is convinced he's dead. Then she learns she's pregnant. At first, Noelle is happy about the baby because she believes it's a sign Larry will come back to her. Then the poor dear meets up with a friend of Larry's and learns to her horror that her fly boy is not only back in the States, but he's gotten an English girl knocked up. When this friend counsels her "You're better off without him", Noelle runs away in tears.
Next we see our heroine sitting in her lonely room. She's drawn a hot bath and is toying with a wire hanger. Noelle then proceeds to end her pregnancy and nearly kills herself in the process. Luckily, kindly Madame Rosa is there to nurse her back to health and remind her that "life goes on." Well, not for Noelle. After all the betrayals she's suffered, our plucky French gamine becomes a hardened, calculating avenging angel bitch-shrew who plots to bring Larry down for good.
"EWWW!": Poor Noelle must endure the clammy advances of hairy pig/boss Lanchon (Sorrel Booke)--but at least her dad got a new bike.
How will she do that? By using her looks and her body to sleep her way to the top of the French film industry, of course. One of her conquests is casting director Armand Gautier (Christian Marquand, who will later direct "Candy", which is reviewed in this very blog). He takes Noelle back to his spacious flat to see if she has "talent". This leads to another of "The Other Side of Midnight"s shocking sex scenes: rolling around on a bear skin rug in front of a fire, Noelle brings Armand to pillow biting Nirvana with some strategically placed ice cubes (kids--don't try this at home). Marquand is so impressed by Noelle's, uh, "talent" that he vows to put her in as many movies as possible--provided their sheet burning sex doesn't "kill me first."
While Noelle is busy becoming one of Europe's hottest actresses, Larry is back in the USA and homing in on a new female pigeon: Catherine (Susan Sarandon), an earnest, plucky PR rep who works for the kindly Mr. Fraser (Clu Gulager, last seen as the most laid back airport security chief ever in "San Francisco International", which is also reviewed in this blog). Like Noelle, Cathy is inexperienced about life and men and Larry (who is appearing in a PR project she's producing) reels her in the same way he did Noelle: dinner, dancing, bike riding, holding hands as they stroll around the country side. At least Cath has the good sense to realize Larry is a player, at one point telling him, "If you don't love me, Larry, don't lay me." Of course, the jet jockey tells her he's madly in love with her and the duo finally do the deed. Laying in Larry's arms, buck naked, preparing to have sex for the first time, Cathy sighs, "I guess it's time to retire the trophy."
The only difference is Larry does marry Cathy, although he soon regrets it. So does the audience.
Meanwhile, back in France, Noelle is using her movie fame and money to hire private detectives to keep track of Larry's where-abouts. When she learns he's married Cathy, the diva makes sure he loses every job he applies for. Why? Because he'll get agitated and broke and will have no choice but to accept a position as the personal pilot of filthy rich, all-powerful Greek tycoon Constantin Demeris (Raf Vallone). Noelle, as it turns out, is now the cuddlemate of Constantin, and she presides over his private island like a queen.
Larry does accept the job and fails to recognize the couture-clad, jewel-dripping haughty Noelle as the sweet French gal he dated and dumped all those years ago...which is exactly what Noelle wants. As her personal pilot, Noelle treats Larry like dirt and even arranges for him to sleep in a hotel room the size of a closet. Furious, Larry charges up to Noelle's spacious hotel room, kicks in the door, grabs Noelle...and the two proceed to burn up the sheets. Finally, Larry realizes that Noelle is Noelle and the two declare they're madly in love with each other and never stopped loving each other and they vow to be together forever and stuff like that.
Are you keeping up with me? Good. Because the rekindled romance of our cuddlemates faces two very big hurdles: One, Cathy (who has turned into a lush--don't ask) and won't agree to a divorce and, two, Constantin, who would fly into a murderous rage if he learned his personal pilot was racking up frequent flyer miles with his movie star mistress. So the enterprising Noelle cooks up a scheme where they murder the unstable Cathy during a lay over in Greece. When Larry balks at such a nasty idea, Noelle threatens to go to her Greek tycoon sugar daddy and tell him about their affair, which, of course, will mean curtains for Larry. And as if that wasn't enough to get Larry to get busy and off his wife, Noelle, in a dramatic flourish, hauls out the wedding dress Larry told her to buy way back when. The diva insists she's waited too long to wear this dress and she won't wait any longer! Kill Cathy or else!
What Larry doesn't realize (because he's really stupid) is that Noelle plans to frame him for Cathy's murder and testify against him and then sit back and smile as the man who ruined her life rots in jail.
Of course, even the best laid plans can go awry. Noelle doesn't figure on Larry chickening out on killing his wife or that the unhinged Cathy will overhear the duo arguing over how best to snuff her. Nor do our cuddlemates plan on a big storm engulfing Greece. However, all those things happen and Cathy, afraid for her life, writes a quick note before running out of her hotel room--clad in only a nightie!--and into the ensuing storm. Of course, Cathy didn't expect the boat she hopped into for cover would be washed out to sea, but that happens, too.
With his wife presumed dead, but her body nowhere to be found, Larry and Noelle are charged with murder. Constantin visits Noelle in prison and asks her if she murdered Cathy. Dragging on a cigarette, Noelle insists she's innocent. Then the Greek tycoon launches into a tortured monologue about how he misses Noelle and loves her and wants to help her. If his honeybunch will come back to him and never see Larry again, he, Constantin, will hire the best lawyer he knows to her set free. Noelle agrees.
The trial gets loads of publicity and drags on and on. Then Constantin's pricey lawyer (Louis Zorch) suddenly suggests Noelle and Larry plead guilty to Cathy's murder. If they do, he promises Noelle will get, like, three months, tops, and Larry will be deported to America. Zorch insists this is the best thing to do and our cuddlemates stupidly follow his advice.
"Is 'Law and Order' on?": Love birds turned jail birds Noelle and Larry cool their heels in the slammer.
Throughout the trial, Noelle has noticed that Constantin has been absent from the sensational proceedings; however, on the day the judge is to pronounce his ruling, the Greek tycoon suddenly shows up. The judge's verdict? Guilty! Even worse, Larry and Noelle are to be shot by a firing squad! How could this happen?
Well, it turns out Noelle was so dead-bent on seeking revenge on Larry that she forgot to factor in Constantin. As an all powerful, filthy rich Greek tycoon, Constantin already knew about Noelle's affair with Larry and was already plotting some payback of his own when Cathy was washed away. So he tricked Noelle into confessing all, had his pricey lawyer pull a double cross and ensured the judge would find the duo guilty. As bad movie lovers know, Greek tycoons are always doing crazy shit like this because that's what all powerful, filthy rich Greek tycoons do! I mean, you can't spend all your time buying oil tankers and hammering out government contracts, can you?
So Noelle and Larry are duly executed--Noelle even wears her precious wedding dress for the occasion. But things ain't over yet. Next we see Constantin chatting with the Mother Superior of a tiny Greek convent. In exchange for a nice chunk of change, the nuns have agreed to care a mysterious patient who washed up on their shores after a violent storm. The patient, a female, has been suffering from shock and hasn't uttered a peep since the nuns found her. Who could that be? Come on, take a guess. I dare you! OK, it's Cathy, looking as if someone had hit her in the back of the head with a lead skillet. The triumphant Constantin kisses her hand as the music swells and the credits roll.
Although the producers of this flick promised movie goers a sweeping saga of "power and passion", "The Other Side of Midnight" lumbers at the pace of a drugged ox. So much happens in this movie that as the plot points pile up, their accumulated weight begins to crush your skull. When the flick finally ends, you're not so much relieved as exhausted.
"Come on, honey! The champagne's getting hot and I'm getting cold!": Noelle auditions for another movie role.
Although leading lady Marie-France Pisier was an award winning actress in her native France, something must have been lost in translation when she was cast as Noelle. Yes, Pisier can pout with the best of them, but she lacks the fire necessary to convince viewers she's calculating enough to hatch such an elaborate revenge plot against Larry.
And speaking of Larry: the producers of "The Other Side of Midnight" wanted this character to be "an Errol Flynn type." Unfortunately, that's not Jeff Beck. He might've been well cast as a high school football coach, but as as a devil-may-care ladies man with a string of broken hearts to his credit? Beck doesn't have the swashbuckling charisma reminiscent of a Flynn, a Tyrone Power or even a Stewart Granger. Even the little mustache they give him fails to do the trick; it just becomes irritating after a while. Meanwhile, as the all powerful, filthy rich Greek tycoon Constantin, Raf Vallone hits all the usual marks these characters are suppose to hit, but he's basically just a walking cliche.
The only cast member who came out of "The Other Side of Midnight" (relatively) unscathed was Susan Sarandon. Her character Cathy is the film's most likeable character, if only because she's an innocent ditz driven to drink by her faithless hubby.
Which brings us to Noelle's revenge scheme: isn't it a little extreme, even for a best selling pot boiler? Sure, millions of women can relate to the idea of getting even with the cad who seduced and abandoned them. But sleeping to the top of the French film industry, hiring detectives to keep tabs on your ex, ruining his job prospects, becoming the cuddlemate of a Greek tycoon, hiring him as your private pilot, and then frame him for the murder of his innocent--although stewed--wife? Wouldn't it have been easier if Noelle just slashed Larry's tires? Or egged his house? They don't execute you for that and it takes less time, too.
"The Other Side of Midnight" was suppose to be a blockbuster, but it tanked at the box office. This surprised 20th Century-Fox. In fact, they were so confident in their time spanning trash saga they forced participating theaters to show a companion feature: a low budget sci-fi flick with a largely unknown cast and a bunch of robots.
The Greek tycoon and his famous mistress. Who could they be based on?
The movie's name? "Star Wars."
So movie lovers, we come to the end of this post. What have learned? That revenge is a fool's errand? That giving your leading man a 'stache won't make him dashing? That acclaim in French films doesn't ensure fame elsewhere? That creative sci-fi will wins out over time spanning trash? Or if you want to spice things up in the bedroom, try some ice?
Perhaps the answer lies in this Greek proverb: "A curse is like a donkey; it returns to his master". In other words, you may end up suffering the ill fate you wish upon others.
So avoid needless revenge schemes and SAVE THE MOVIES.