The Night of the Following Day (1968)

You would have to question the logic of the genius Brando appearing in such relatively terrible fare. It’s like putting a Formula One Car in a go-kart race. It’s not a question of the F1 car winning, it’s more mundane stuff, such as there even being enough room on the track for the other vehicles. To this end, Brando is somewhat slowed down. Good actors benefit from good scripts and they don’t automatically bring their magic to poor scripts. The opposite is more likely. That is — a poor script is more than capable of dragging a great actor into a slew of ham.

There is one scene where this is noticeable — a single shot dialogue between Brando and Jess Hahn, in which Marlon Brando’s character decides he wants out of the caper. Try as he may, Brando fails. On top of his dramatics, the director throws Brando in and out of soft focus, like he’s Lieutenant Uhuru, or another silly starlet, purpled up for a glamour shot. These soft focus shots are inserted seemingly at random amid the dull grey and brown norms of the set.

What’s that witty advice I’ve heard before? ‘Nobody plans to fail, though many fail to plan.’ Although intentions must have been good, when the lens cap came off for the shooting of The Night of the Following Day, not every element was in place. The music in The Night of the Following Day is singular and special. Some of the themes have stuck with me for all time.

But I still have the feeling that Marlon Brando is being let down by his own desire to do something different (for different simply read ‘French’), by the director who can shoot a sand dune but not an action sequence, and by a story that isn’t dramatically satisfying enough to be great or even decent drama.

The French setting of The Night of the Following Day does add some significance, even if it is only the chance to hear Brando rehearsing his French speaking voice. In general, some of The Night of the Following Day is reminiscent of Claude Chabrol, but that is a matter of opinion. It may simply be a kindness to suggest it. Remembering the famous interview in which Brando bursts into French, this seems just as curiously staged. Brando’s French speaking is not as impressive to u as it may have been to him and those around him. For most of the world, speaking a second language isn’t a big deal, and it is not appropriate for us to worship Brando because he can spit out a few words of French, especially when it’s clear that he spent longer perfecting the accent than he did the syntax.

You’ll most likely sit grudgingly throughout The Night of the Following Day, and once it is over and you have tried to digest the very silly ending, you may forget about it altogether — right down to Marlon Brando’s ridiculous hair. You may even wonder for a minute at what the title is supposed to refer to. That’s allowed also. Marlon Brando is probably the only reason left to watch The Night of the Following Day in fact, though Richard Boone as the sadistic killer is pretty good, as is Rita Moreno, as the heroin addicted girlfriend behind the botched kidnap.

More pain, more make-up, and a slightly purple tinge to the filter.

Whereas Morituri had some backbone to it, The Night of the Following day, with its freaky and often poorly pitched sense of drama, is simply oddball.   The criminals’ blunders are too thick and fast and many, and although the point of the film is to show the internal breakup of the gang, it happens strangely and suddenly.

The Night of the Following day is however pleasantly low-key and this is something you just don’t see anymore. Spectacle seems to win out now when great feats can be achieved with very little, and the merest observations of daily life. That is what The Night of the Following day seems to be heading for at least, though I am not sure if it succeeds.  

The Night of the Following Day therefore stands as an object example in the mystery of Marlon Brando’s career, and although there isn’t much in terms of analysis to be had from it as a film, there is a helluva lot to ask about Brando, and what exactly he thinks he’s up to. Helpful as ever, Brando answered the question himself. ‘The script of The Night of the Following Day,’ he said, ‘made about as much sense as a rat fucking a grapefruit.’