First released in 1977, The Other Side of Midnight is one of those film that literally seems to have everything a viewer could want: sex, love, betrayal, sex, war, melodrama, intrigue, sex, expensive clothes, private island, see-through nightgowns, sex, hurricanes, murder, a surprise twist ending that involves a convent, and sex. Did I mention that this film has sex in it, because it so does.
The film opens in Paris during the years leading up to World War II. Beautiful Noelle (Marie-France Pisier) meets Larry Douglas (John Beck), a handsome American who is serving with the Canadian Air Force. Noelle agrees to go out on a date with Larry and they get to have the of the movie’s many falling-in-love montages. Fortunately, they’re in Paris which has a lot of great scenery in front of which they can pose. Unfortunately, Larry is ordered back to the United States. He promises Noelle that he’ll return but he never does. What Larry doesn’t realize is that Noelle’s pregnant — or at least she is until a harrowing scene where she climbs into a bathtub with a wire hanger.
This is followed by another montage. Call this the “Out-of-Love-And-Growing-Bitter” montage. Noelle survives the German occupation by seducing and using every powerful man that she meets. Along the way, she becomes one of the most glamorous and famous film stars in all of Europe. Finally, she becomes the mistress of the wealthy and somewhat shady Constantin Demaris (Raf Vallone, doing his best Anthony Quinn impersonation).
Meanwhile, Larry is back in America and, after going through another falling-in-love montage, has ended up married to innocent Catherine Alexander (Susan Sarandon). What Larry doesn’t realize is that Noelle has hired a detective to keep track of him. After the war, Larry gets a job as a commercial airline pilot but Noelle secretly arranges for him to lose that job. Unemployed and desperate, Larry accepts a job to work as the private pilot for Demaris and his mistress.
Though it takes him a while to recognize her, Larry eventually does realize that his new boss is his former lover, Noelle. As Larry starts to truly fall in love with Noelle all over again, Noelle starts to pressure him to do something about his new wife. As is the case with several Hollywood melodramas, it all ends in a courtroom. The courtroom scenes may not be exactly exciting but they do feature my favorite image from the entire film: at one point, we see that literally every single character who has appeared in the movie up to this point is sitting in that courtroom, all lined up like a bunch of disparate figures in an Edward Hopper painting.
The Other Side of Midnight is one of those big films where a lot of stuff happens but very little of it really seems to add up to anything. It has a nearly 3 hour running time but it’s story could have just as easily been told in 90 minutes. Instead, director Charles Jarrott pads out the running time with endless falling-in-love and falling-out-of-love montages. This is the type of film that never says anything once that it can say an extra three times.
Susan Sarandon and Marie-France Pisier both give good performances. Susan Sarandon is likable, even if her character is unbelievably naive while Marie-France Pisier gives a performance worthy of any good film noir but neither one of them has much chemistry with John Beck. Fortunately, some of the supporting players — like Raf Vallone and Christian Marquand — take full advantage of every chance that they get to chew every piece of scenery that’s available. Clu Gulager, the father of horror director John Gulager, pops up as well, playing perhaps the only good male in the entire film.
In the end, The Other Side of Midnight (and what the Hell does that title mean anyway?) is a rather silly movie about a bunch of shallow characters wearing beautiful clothes and wandering through wonderfully baroque locations. Fortunately, I love elaborately decorated locations and glamorous outfits so I enjoyed The Other Side of Midnight despite myself.
One final thing about The Other Side of Midnight: 20th Century Fox was so sure that The Other Side of Midnight would be a huge success that they used it to blackmail theater owners into agreeing to show an obscure science fiction film called Star Wars. Theaters would only be allowed to show The Other Side of Midnight if they also agreed to show Star Wars during the week before Midnight opened.
The end result, of course, is that The Other Side of Midnight was a bomb at the box office and Star Wars is still making money.
Below is a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of The Other Side of Midnight.