Middle of the Night (1959) Delbert Mann

Middle of the Night is a story of a May/December romance. Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Delbert Mann. Mann directed three films written by Cheyefsky, Marty, his first film which won Best Picture of the Year and Best Director awards, followed by The Bachelor Party and Middle of the Night. Later on Cheyefsky would write the screenplays for Network and The Hospital. He also adapted the William Bradford Huie novel, The Americanization of Emily for the screen.  Middle of the Night began as a TV episode on the anthology series “The Philco Television Playhouse”, starring E.G. Marshall and Eva Marie Saint. In 1956, Cheyefsky turned it into a play and it opened on Broadway with Edward G. Robinson as the older man and Gena Rowlands as the young woman. In 1959, the  movie version was released with Fredric March and Kim Novak in the roles.

Jerry (Fredric March), a 56 year old lonely widower, is a successful businessman in the garment district in New York and 24 year old Betty (Kim Novak) is working there as a receptionist and part-time model. Betty is newly divorced and uncertain about her future. The story centers on their romance and eventual decision to marry, the ups and downs in any relationship and specifically about one with a wide age difference. One of the more uncomfortable scenes is when Jerry meets Betty’s mother who it turns out is approximately the same age as he is. Later there is an even more painful confrontation with his family, which includes his daughter, a year younger than Betty, and his single over protective nagging sister. Everyone seems to have an opinion though the one thing everyone is in agreement on is that they are against the marriage. If all that is not enough there are the couples  own insecurities, Jerry’s jealousy when she talks to younger men or will she leave him in a few years? Betty anxieties are over her newly divorced husband, a musician who wants her back, and then there is her father fixation. In the end, despite all the objections from family and their own uncertainties they realize they love each other and maybe just maybe, they have a chance.

Fredric March is excellent as Jerry who at 56 feels that life has passed him by. Family and friends tell him that he should relax in his old age and take it easy. Jerry feels like everyone is ready to put him out to pasture until he starts dating Betty who makes him feel alive again. He tells everyone he’ll have enough time to take it easy when he’s dead! (Jerry would liked Warren Zevon’s song, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead). You absolutely believe March in this role, the struggles and fears that he is facing at this particular junction in his life. Kim Novak also does a fine job as the young and insecure Betty whose father dumped his family when she was young. Conflicted about the breakup of her marriage she finds comfort and security with Jerry. She brings a nice vulnerability to Betty that makes her real. Throughout her career Novak has been underrated as an actress. She holds her own here with a magnificent cast that includes Lee Grant, Martin Balsam, Albert Dekker and Glenda Farrell. There are also some nice location scenes of New York’s garment district and other areas circa the late 1950’s.

One aspect that I found interesting is how old the actors look considering the age they are portraying. Fredric March who was 62 at the time portrays a man who is 56. Albert Dekker’s character was 59 ( he was 54 in real life), however both men look closer to being in their late 60’s maybe even in their 70’s. Compared to some of today’s actors equivalent in age like Dennis Quaid (55) or Jeff Bridges (59) or Harrison Ford (66) they looked much older than the ages they are portraying. Lifestyle? Healthier living? Whatever it is, people do look a lot young today than their counterparts of forty or fifty years ago.

Delbert Mann began his career during the Golden Age of Television drama. When people discussed directors from the Golden Age of Television who came to film in the late 50’s and early 60’s the names usually consist of John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet and Arthur Penn. Delbert Mann is rarely mentioned yet his filmography in those early years is pretty impressive. His debut film was Marty, which as previously mentioned won a few Oscars. That was followed by The Bachelor Party in 1957, Desire Under the Elms, Separate Tables, Middle of the Night and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. All of these were adaptations of stage plays except for Marty and The Bachelor Party. In the 1960’s Mann had success with two Doris Day comedies, That Touch of Mink and Lover Come Back. He made a few more films including Mister Buddwing and The Pink Jungle before going back to television in the 1970’s and 1980’s. While no auteur, Mann was a solid actor’s director and always told a good story.

****

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6 comments on “Middle of the Night (1959) Delbert Mann

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    It’s been a very long time since I watched this film, but yes I do remember it, and this return to memory lane does make me realize that Delbert Mann was a talented (and rather underestimated) artist. The collaboration here of Mann and Chayevsky though, is the allure, as the great (once blacklisted writer) has a few very great works to his credit: MARTY, NETWORK and THE HOSPITAL of course are obvious)and some smaller films like this respectable work. I wonder if there is a DVD of this. I’d like to re-live the memories.

    Wonderful piece here.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Sam, Chayefsky was a rare talent. He also wrote a film called THE GODDESS which , I have not seen in many years. He also adapted one of my personally favorite films THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY and ALTERED STATES. A s far as I know the film have never been released on home video. I do have a copy I recorded off TCM . If you’re interested, let me know I can get you a copy.

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  2. I am so glad you wrote about this wonderful film. Any student of acting, directing or writing ought to see it. I can only add that the location shots in winter gave integrity to the theme of an older man wanting to go on living and to find some sort of happiness. Frederick March happily sloshes through the snow and seems to fairly burst with joy at finding a young girl he can love. In addition, as you noted quite accurately, Kim Novak was terribly underrated. Her performance as a gullible, confused, vulnerable girl is beautifully wrought in every detail. If you have any sensitivity for the effort that goes into the creation of an art work, you find tears streaming down your face by the end of the film. Not because of the ending necessarily but because those involved in making this film brought something honest and revealing through the magic practiced by great artists.

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    • John Greco says:

      This film seems to be very underrated. I am happyd to see TCM has been showing it as of late. Novak gives one of her best and most vulnerable performanaces and March does also.The writing here is superb and something that I believe is lacking in many newer films. I am glad to here of your appreciation for this work.

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  3. Vera says:

    I guess I’m in the minority, I thought Kim’s darting eyes and over acting was really distracting, I actually could see Marilyn in the role. The thing I found the most interesting was the social commentary, women’s lives were over by 30 or so, without kids you are nothing, older men were allowed to have some sort of romantic life but older women were tossed into the garbage heap and blamed for all men’s angst and problems. It was very depressing. The suggestion that he would want a woman his own age was pushed aside, what an old grey haired granny who would put a blanket on his knees and hold him back. I remember my mother obsessing about age back in the day, now I can see why.

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  4. John Greco says:

    Fortunately it has changed, at least some, for the better as far as this sort of thing. The film is also interesting seeing ‘older’ people in general. March and his character were only in his mid-50’s and he looked and acted a lot older than that compared to people in their mid-50’s today. Health today is generally better thanks to better eating habits and medicine making us live longer and look better. Thanks for stopping by and welcome!

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