[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]
The most interesting thing about The Midnight Man is the fact that it was co-written for the screen, co-produced, and co-directed by a writer and a movie star. The fact, not any of the results or even the vagrant peculiar tensions one might expect to discern in such a collaboration. The film lacks visual distinction; the best thing to be said on that score is that both directors have avoided a customary failing of unpracticed metteurs-en-scène, tucking the camera behind chair backs or putting it through flashy but pointless paces. The cast is large and, as a list of names, interesting; but no performance is free of the taint of indecisiveness, an irritating incompleteness that has more to do with the players’ insecurity than any of the characters. The screenplay serves up a complicated plot, but it is the complication of desultory narrative lines that cohabitate without cohering; far from suggesting a writer seizing the opportunity to realize a cherished ambition, it seems like nothing so much as a Metro committee job sent back for readjustment alter readjustment by a dozen different writers who never met except maybe accidentally in the commissary.
Lancaster’s presence lends a much-needed sense of weight at the center of every scene but the first. He plays a former Chicago cop who went to prison for shooting the man he found in his wife’s bed. Paroled, he joins up with another ex-cop who has arranged a job for him with the goon platoon of an unprepossessing Midwestern campus. Somebody breaks into a psych office and steals some compromising tapes, a coed is murdered, and inevitably the one-time homicide man is at the center of the case. There’s no point in going further than that because the film can command only what-happens-next interest, and anyone who finds himself sitting in front of it might as well have the pleasure of its mild surprises and gratuitous twists. Suffice it here to quote Touch of Evil‘s Hank Quinlan (he’s vaguely invoked at one point): “Guilty, guilty—every last one of ’em … guilty….”
THE MIDNIGHT MAN
Screenplay, Direction, and Production: Roland Kibbee, Burt Lancaster, after the novel The Midnight Man and the Mourning Lady by David Anthony. Cinematography: Jack Priestly. Music: Dave Grusin.
The Players: Burt Lancaster, Susan Clark, Harris Yulin, Cameron Mitchell, Joan Lorring, Robert Quarry, Morgan Woodward, Lawrence Dobkin, Ed Lauter, Charles Tyner.
Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson