"The Other Side of Midnight," which opened recently at area theatears, is pretty shameless junk, but it might have been irresistible, commercially surefire junk at a running time less wasteful and tedious than the present two hours, 45 minutes.
It's one thing for a picture like "A Bridge Too Far" to run almost three hours -- it has an involved, spectacular story to tell. "Midnight," a presposterous melodramatic confection about a wronged, vindictive woman [words illigible] undying love for her caddish first love, would be pushing its luck at two hours flat.
Producer Frank yablans must have succumbed to the same egomaniacal compulsion that drives directors to shoot superfluous scenes and writers to type superfluous words. What's worse is that he has indulged himself in a long potboiler supervised by a director, the colorless Charles Jarrott of "Anne of the Thousand Days" and Ross Hunter's "Lost Horizon," who doesn't have enough flair to keep the trash sizzling.
The opening hour of "Midnight" is so ponderous that audiences may go into a coma before Marie-France Pisier, who rises above an American starring debut that would turn any actress less humorous and self-assured into a has-been, changes from abandoned, brokenhearted wait into selfish, vengeful hussy and the risible nonsense begins. Tou could saunter in 30-75 minutes late and not miss anything diverting except a glimpse of Sholl's Cafeteria and an American soldier's unforgettable introduction of his French date -- "This is Bridget, uh, Frenchperson."
"One of the business ironies of this summer's film season is that 20th Century-Fox asked much higher terms from theater owners on "Midnight," which was considered trashy but safe, than "star wars," which appeared to be risky. The least Yablans and Fox could do for their customers is deliver a trashy entertainment that could turn over new business every two hours or so.
A large percentage of the film's audience may be relative sophisticates who feel like indulging an old-fashioned stinker. However, Yablans' calculations seem to presume the existence of a new audience for "women's pictures" as undiscriminating and hypocritical as the old one at its most slavishly dependant.
The box-office success of Barba Streisand's version of "A Star Is Born" is being attributed to overwhelming acceptance by women moviegoers. Given the apparent source of gratification in that little ego trip, where Streisand was busy hogging sympathy while betraying her bossiness, it wouldn't be surprising if movie producers jumped to reactionary conclusions. "Midnight" attempts to massage its target audience for several kinds of elementary gratification. The protagonist, Noelle Page. goes from wronged woman to domineering woman to moralistically punished woman. If the movie were just perkier. this mixture would undoubtedly be a fragrant fantasy bath to wallow in.
Pisier has authentic star quality when she's portraying troublemaking or frivolous characters. In the early stages of the film she's almost as boring as Marisa Berenson, because the plot compells her to be a heart-warming innocent, swept off her feet by playboy flyboy John Beck and then abandoned and forgotten when World War II intervenes.
A dreary fraud in her tenderly naive scenes, Pisier assumes a delightful haughtiness when she goes tough, sleeping her way to the top of the French movie industry (during the German occupation yet!). presiding at the palatial seacoast residence of the Greek shipping tycoon (Raf Vallone) who has become her most powerful benefactor and plotting how to get even with Beck, who has since married a dopey public relations "expert" played by Susan Sarandon, whose appearance seems to have collapsed, a development more distressing than the misfortunes awaiting her character.
The only "new" element in the movie is fairly explicit eroticism. The most amusing scene is a surprisingly gagged-up erotic interlude: Pisier seducing a director who mutters helplessly, "You make love like a star," as she perfumes, harlashes and ices him into ecstacy.
Pisier obliges the filmmakers with several disrobings and closeups of sexual transport in the "Ecstasy" tradition. The rottenest trick in the film is sneaking in some ogling of her unclad figure just before Noelle aborts herself with a clotheshanger in a scalding bathtub.
It's much more satisfying to watch Pisier drift around the gaudy rooms John De Cuir has imagined for Vallone's mansion in Irene Sharaff clothes that tend to be witty comments on the protagonist herself. For example, an ensemble of big fur coat plus little pink hat seems a wonderful act of character assassination by costuming.