Two by Hubert Cornfield: The Night of the Following Day (1968); Pressure Point (1962)

The Night of the Following Day (1968)--director Hubert Cornfield in the DVD commentary notes that this was a property Kubrick wanted to get for his Hollywood debut (but couldn't, forcing him to do The Killing instead, leaving Cornfield to finally adapt it years later). It's Brando at his least mannerly brooding best, and he's matched point-for-point by Rita Moreno as his junkie girlfriend (they have this marvelous scene together where he walks in and tries to calm down her jealous rage, and the speed and surprise with which he does it is startling), and by Richard Boone as his psychopathic colleague (it isn't so much the sadistic, irrational things Boone does, really, as it is the playful manner in which he does them).

Maybe the film's most notable for the atmosphere Cornfield evokes, more moody and surreal than in your standard-issue crime caper. The camera seems often handheld, in a state of free-floating anxiety, much like Polanski's in Knife in the Water and Repulsion, as ready to catch a stray psychological nuance as catch plot details.

The ending should really be a surprise and a twist, but considering the state of one's consciousness as you sit through it--the sense of sitting half-awake through a nightmare laced with odd details (like Brando and Moreno naked in a sensual clinch, fading in and out of the big screen; or the Magrittelike man in raincoat and bowler walking across the beach); the lighting being consistently half-darkened, as if the cinematographer was intensely reluctant to intrude into your drowsiness--that particular ending ultimately comes across as the only natural, inevitable direction the picture can take.

Pressure Point (1962) is, I think, simultaneously worse and much better than that later film. It's yoked with Stanley Kramer as producer, and he probably wanted the speeches clear and morally defensible, but Cornfield (I'm guessing) undercuts Kramer's twelve-step agenda with wild hallucinations and dream sequences, and strange transitions from reality to memory and back (a boy speaking in a man's voice, or a camera that swoops up and down, like a hawk at its prey) that move too smoothly not to make you suspect someone with a real visual imagination was at work.
Best of all is an incredible Bobby Darin playing one of the most persuasive and charismatic sociopaths I've ever seen, matched against a grim Sidney Poitier who feels not a little intimidated by the man's formidable intensity. And for all its melodramatic sturm und drang, I'd dare anyone to find a better or quieter scene of subtly sketched racial hypocrisy than Poitier's showdown with his white bosses over Darin's possible release.

I might add, googling around, that Richard Boone apparently directed parts of The Night of the Following Day, and that Stanley Kramer directed the sandwich scenes that turned Pressure Point into one long flashback (no question who did who there--it goes from flat to interesting back to being flat, with music that shifts from melodramatic to strange back to melodrama).

The final line, describing the fate of Darin's character, is a total sellout: it undercuts the awful power of Cornfield's final scene (where the forces of 'evil' hold sway), and injects a tinpan note of hope into the whole thing (very Kramerlike, I might add).

Still can't get over the uncanny resemblance between Darin and Spacy; no wonder the latter obsessed over the former. And I'll bet Spacey modeled much of his acting style on Darin's in this picture.

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