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The Big Night (1951)

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A teenager comes of age while seeking revenge on the man who beat up his father.

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Title: The Big Night (1951)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
George La Main (as John Barrymore Jr.)
Preston Foster ...
Andy La Main
...
Marion Rostina
Howard St. John ...
Al Judge
...
Julie Rostina
Philip Bourneuf ...
Dr. Lloyd Cooper
Howland Chamberlain ...
Flanagan (as Howland Chamberlin)
Myron Healey ...
Kennealy
Emile Meyer ...
Peckinpaugh (as Emil Meyer)
Mauri Lynn ...
Terry Angelus
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Storyline

George La Main, just turned 17, suffers growing pains and is anxious to prove his manhood. That night, George's adored father Andy is savagely beaten by sportswriter Al Judge. Traumatized and unable to learn why it happened, George goes gunning for Judge. His mission becomes an odyssey through the town's seamy side, and his coming of age is more of a trial by fire than he bargained for. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

13 November 1951 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die Nacht der Wahrheit  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

According to interviews that director Joseph Losey gave in the mid-1970s to Michel Ciment, the FBI wanted to spy on him in Europe, where he relocated to work after being blacklisted by Hollywood because of his political activities. So they paid John Drew Barrymore (who became a good friend after this movie) to furnish information about Losey's political activities, if any, in London. Barrymore later met Losey in London and confessed to him about the money and expense account the FBI had given him to spy on Losey. Losey, recalling that the young actor had been under tremendous pressure at the time, forgave him and in fact suggested that they have several lavish meals together and put the cost on Barrymore's FBI expense account, which they promptly did. See more »

Goofs

George blows out all but one of his birthday candles. When the view changes from over George's shoulder to a position over his father's shoulder, all the candles are out, but when it changes back, the one candle is again lit. See more »

Quotes

Al Judge: I couldn't quite tell for sure, but I got the impression you were packing a gun.
George La Main: I still am.
Al Judge: In that case I guess I can take the time to find out whatever your beef is, or were you just planning to shoot me without letting me in on the secret?
See more »

Soundtracks

Am I Too Young
Music by Lyn Murray
Lyrics by Sid Kuller
Sung by Mauri Lynn
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A Little Deeper Look at an Oddly Affecting Noir
27 March 2014 | by (Claremont,USA) – See all my reviews

Uneven film that at times seems to drift. Still, there are genuinely compelling moments, as when burly dad LeMaine (Foster, in a fine performance) meekly submits to a brutal cane lashing that had me cringing. Why he's submitting remains a puzzle until the end. Because of the beating, Dad's insecure son George (Barrymore Jr.) spends the movie's remainder trying to avenge his father.

Beneath the revenge narrative, however, is really a rite-of-passage story. For example, in a not very believable opening, a cringing George is pounded in humiliating fashion by his teenage peers. We're given no explanation, nor does actor Barrymore physically resemble an easy mark. It's not a promising beginning. Then, in a much more persuasive scene, Dad casts a slightly disapproving eye over his nervous son's birthday cake (symbolic of the story). So the kid must prove himself not only to Dad, but to himself.

It's not a tight screenplay. Events more or less simply follow one another, tied together by the theme of vengeance. Happily, however, the narrative doesn't drag. Actor Barrymore Jr. had a rather brief career despite the pedigree. One thing for sure, he's certainly different looking. With a mop of unruly hair and slightly crooked mouth, he's no glamor boy. Nonetheless, his looks are perfect for the role, such that, when he dons a sport coat and hat, he still looks like a kid trying to take a big step up. All in all, the young actor does pretty well in the kind of difficult role that would later go to James Dean. I also like a de-glamorized Joan Lorring, who's a good match for him. My one real complaint is the way Al Judge (St. John) is written. His behavior is so crude and ugly, it's hard thinking of him as a respected sports writer. A racketeer would have been more credible and easier, so the scriptwriters must have had a reason.

Then too, the screenwriters, Butler and Lardner Jr., along with director Losey, were all blacklisted during Hollywood's commie hunting period. I suspect it was their leftist leanings that are responsible for one of the film's most arresting sequences. George goes to a nightclub where a drop-dead beautiful black songstress (Mauri Lynn) entertains. Afterward, he encounters her outside and is compelled to compliment her looks and talent. She glows at the flattering remark. Trouble is his heartfelt momentum carries over to the unspoken qualification "for a Negro woman". She grasps the unfortunate hanging-in-the-air racial reference, and is reminded of her not-fully-equal status. Thus, disappointment clouds her former glow. It's a beautifully played moment and quite powerful in emotional impact. I wonder what happened to that fine actress.

Anyway, the movie does have a number of effective noir touches, especially George's twilight escape through LA's towering industrial district. It's a mysterious world so much larger than himself. All in all, the film is oddly memorable, thanks, I think, to Barrymore's unusual presence. I know I sought it out on DVD, lo, so many years after having first seen it in a theatre.

(In passing—the burly guy sitting next to Barrymore and Bourneuf ringside at the fights is Robert Aldrich, the great director of such classics as Kiss Me Deadly {1955} and Attack {1956}.)


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