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Black hole at center of alcoholic blackout thriller is star Gary Merrill
Night Without Sleep may very well put you into the land of nod. It's a faint retread of Black Angel, based on one of Cornell Woolrich's alcoholic-blackout stories and starring Dan Duryea as the hung-over protagonist who may or may not have committed a murder of which he can recall nothing. But the script for Night Without Sleep bears no trace of Woolrich's febrile ingenuity, and instead of the cagey Duryea we get the bland Gary Merrill.
Two years after having been lucky enough to land the part of Margo Channing's Broadway director fiancé in All About Eve (he and Bette Davis married just after the production), Merrill plays another theatrical figure, a composer toiling under the shadow of his wealthy wife (June Vincent). His last hit (`Purple Like Grapes') was years ago, so he drowns his frustrations in multitudinous `very dry' martinis (whose responsibility for his very dry spell is never considered).
Matters come to a head when he wakes at five but doesn't know if it's evening or morning. He tries to piece together the previous hours from fragments of hazy recollection: He was bickering with his wife before he was to take her to the airport; he drove into Manhattan; he dropped in on a cocktail party where he met a new Hollywood star (Linda Darnell); and, in consequence, he was hours late in meeting his volatile mistress (Hildegard Knef) for drinks and dinner. But he can't shake the thought that he murdered one of these women in his disordered life...
Merrill's emerging memories offer opportunity for flashbacks, some brief but others cumbersomely long. The one involving Darnell - whom it turns out he had once met when she was a starving hoofer - turns into a movie-within-a-movie, a full-blown romance within a sketchy film noir (there's even a flashback within this flashback). Darnell lightens the movie with a straightforward, unaffected performance (at least until she's called upon to cry) but lightening is the last thing this movie needs. What it needs is a decent script and an actor in the principal role. That leaves out Merrill, who may as well have been carved out of a block of balsa wood.
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