The Big Night Has Its Moments
There is a moment at the end of 1951’s film noir The Big Night when a bartender closes up the bar, shuts the blinds, and walks off carrying a birthday cake. It is in silence, and the cinematography and atmosphere negate everything viewers see up to that point. It is poignant, speaks volumes, and is the best scene in the film.
Everyone has a few skeletons tucked away here and there, and when director Joseph Losey (1909-1984) would inventory his closet, there was The Big Night (1951). John Drew Barrymore was 19 years old when he was cast to star as George LaMain (using the name John Barrymore Jr.) in this hokey maybe-there-was-a-murder thriller. He looked about 35. Maybe 40 is the new twenty.
A dorky teenager is sitting in a bar one evening, doing his homework (it was his father’s bar), when bad guy Al Judge (Howard St. John) walks in with a couple of thugs, tells the father to get down on his hands and knees, and beats him across his back with a cane. The father (Preston Foster) does as he is told with no argument. No one in the bar steps in to stop the beating.
Dad’s employee/housemate (the bartender) puts him to bed, and the kid finds a gun and decides to avenge his father—after going to the fights, where they were supposed to be going together. Outside the arena he sells his ticket, and then is conned out of the money, but he ends up inside anyway. The man, Dr. Cooper (Philip Bourneuf), who bought the tickets from him is a weird doctor of something—not medicine—and obviously loves his drink. He’s the guy your parents warned you about—he doesn’t do anything besides get drunk and cheat on his wife, but he’s trouble “with a capital T.”Continued on the next page