Paddy Chayefsky always had a wonderful way with words and sometimes he was seduced by his own ability to recreate naturalistic conversation. Such was the case in MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT; the dialog is quite real, but it's often thick, and so some of the meat is obscured by fat. It began life
as a TV drama which starred E.G. Marshall and Eva Marie Saint. Then Chayefsky expanded the 1954 version into a 1956 play which featured Edward G. Robinson and a very young Gena Rowlands. For the film, March returned to the screen after a three year holiday and Novak took the femme lead. As good as
March was, he had some trouble playing a Jewish businessman, and Novak, who was still maturing as an actress, was in a bit over her head. March is a wealthy garment center manufacturer in New York. He is in his indeterminate 60s and has been a widower for quite a while. Novak is the firm's
receptionist and just getting over a divorce. She was deeply hurt by her flighty first husband and finds March a comfort in many ways. He, on the other hand, has been resisting a second marriage with a woman near his age because he is still sprightly and doesn't want to spend the rest of his life
watching TV and planning cruises. The two of them find their needs fulfilled in each other and are soon in love. There's no question that Novak truly cares for March and not just his money. There is much to like in the March character: he is thoughtful, charming, and the affair has a positive
effect on his outlook and health. Everybody, but everybody, is against this affair, which is about to culminate in a marriage. Farrell and Norris (Novak's mother and sister) are dumb and crude and don't mask their feelings on the matter. Dekker, an aging roue and March's partner, fears that March
may not survive that kind of sexual stimulation. Copeland, March's possessive daughter, resents the thought of Novak occupying the same place in her father's heart as her late mother. Despite that, plans go ahead for the marriage. Novak is perplexed by all of the disputes and she makes the mistake
of having a one-night stand with her ex-husband, jazz musician Philips. March is hurt by that and wonders if the others may be right--that Novak doesn't know what she wants. The union is called off, but both parties are so unhappy apart that they eventually reunite, say "the hell with everything,"
and are gloriously happy. The difference in age may mean a short marriage and leave Novak a widow, but their joy transcends any logic and the emotion takes over.
All the smaller roles were cast with exquisite precison, and Balsam, Grant, and particularly Walker (from the Broadway show) are excellent. May-December marriages have been seen many times in films and will continue to be seen as long as movies are made. Very few of them will be as good as this
one. Lots of laughs, a few tears, and Chayefsky's unerring ear for naturalistic dialog are what make MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT as human as it is. Mann and Chayefsky worked well together before in MARTY and THE BACHELOR PARTY, and their respect for each other's talents is evident in every frame. Mann
opened up the stage piece just enough to make it cinematic and not enough to make the audience feel that it was merely an artifice. The brownstones, the streets, Central Park, and, most of all, the people of New York are wonderfully romanticized. Best of all, the story works, and we can believe
that these two unlikely people will find happiness together. Four actors (Walker, Afton, Philips, Balsam) from the original Broadway play, which starred Edward G. Robinson and Gena Rowlands, appeared in this movie version.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Paddy Chayefsky always had a wonderful way with words and sometimes he was seduced by his own ability to recreate naturalistic conversation. Such was the case in MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT; the dialog is quite real, but it's often thick, and so some of the meat i… (more)