The Night of the Following Day: ‘Brando Light’

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Brando. The Godfather as a blonde

Most critics agree that Marlon Brando was/is the best English-language film actor ever. (A close second is Mark Wahlberg, but let’s discuss later). Therefore, squinting with the myopia of prejudice, it’s virtually impossible to clearly appraise a Brando performance. The solution? Try and approach Mr. B sideways, willingly suspending the knowledge of his reputation. Tough, I know, I know…

But if you can do that, then The Night of the Following Day (1968) appears what it really is – a small, claustrophobic thriller fueled on intimations of sexual depravity, duplicity, violence and revenge; an oddly unbalanced caper film with perhaps an unintended, if not voyeuristic, amateur quality.

The fact that the film was made in France, yet never makes much hay of its location, adds to a detached, isolated environment. When we finally see a gendarme, it neither comes as surprise or confusion.

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“Brando, like you’ve never seen him!”

The performances, especially Pamela Franklin as a hapless kidnap victim and Rita Moreno as a neurotic gangster moll, are uneven and self-defeating. Richard Boone – he with debauchery branded deep in every crevasse of his face – projects the fluent menace often seen in Robert Mitchum’s best characterizations. Up to no damn good.

And then there’s Brando. This is late 1960s Brando – just as his self-loathing was starting to percolate. His insistence on wearing a very blond, unsuitable and obvious wig represents an early meta moment. (Or is it a manifestation of his character’s personality? Naw,  I doubt it). His scorn for films, especially big studio productions, would prove his undoing…(But that was always at the root of his who he was – the rebel. What makes ya, breaks ya).

The film’s ambiguous ending is of its time…sooo Sixties. But by the final scene, you don’t care too much about what happens to anybody. Like all cult films, its appeal lays in the intent, not the execution.

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