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Beloved priest Father Thomasino is murdered in a San Francisco alley, and the police have few clues. But traffic cop Joe Martini becomes obsessed with finding the killer; he suspects Sylvio Malatesta. Ordered off the case, Joe turns in his badge and investigates alone. Soon he is a close friend of the Malatesta family, all delightful people, especially lovely cousin Anna. Uncertain whether Sylvio is guilty or innocent, Joe is now torn between old and new loyalties. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Late, well-cast hybrid mixes noir with ethnic family drama
One night in San Francisco's seedy North Beach neighborhood, a beloved priest is attacked in an alley and stabbed to death. A traffic cop (Tony Curtis), who grew up in the orphanage the priest ran, takes the murder particularly hard but sees it as his chance to advance to the homicide squad. At the funeral, he spots a man (Gilbert Roland) so shaken that his rosary has cut into his hand, drawing blood. Curtis follows his hunch that this man knows something about the murder.
Posing as a young fisherman fallen on hard times, he gets a job in Roland's crab shack on Fisherman's Wharf. Next, he's invited to live in the home Roland shares with his mother and his cousin (Marisa Pavan Pier Angeli's twin sister). And for about half the movie, the noirish plot about the murder gets shoved onto the back burner like a kettle of red sauce in favor of an Italian-ethnic family drama (Curtis falls for Pavan, who plays hard to get, and so forth).
Though it seems as if director Joseph Pevney has lost track of the suspense story, he hasn't he interweaves it into the family dynamics. When Curtis finds out information that he thinks exonerates Roland, he's so relieved he asks Pavan to marry him. But at the engagement party, he discovers that Roland's alibi is full of holes....
Falling late in the noir cycle, The Midnight Story recalls in its theme of a priest's killing (and in its San Francisco setting) the haunting little noir Red Light, of 1949. Red Light was pretty hard-core, while The Midnight Story is watered down with heart-warming vignettes. Still, it's more than an honorable try.
Curtis doesn't make the role as unforgettable as Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success the same year, but he doesn't embarrass himself, either. Roland comes close to overdoing the lusty fisherman, but instinctively pulls short. Pavan, however, looks and acts like Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story. Special mention, however, ought to go to Jay C. Flippen, as Curtis' `rabbi' in the police department; one of the unsung stalwarts of the noir cycle, he brightens the screen whenever he turns up because he's sure to polish up a little gem of a performance.
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