Into the Night (1985) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Into-the-Night-poster2This genuinely quirky thriller stars Jeff Goldblum as an insomniac and cuckolded husband who goes on the run with unlikely femme fatale Michelle Pfeiffer. Pratfalls and violent death co-exist in this blackly comic adult Neo Noir that works like a dream. Though some were distracted by a plethora of star cameos, ranging from director John Landis himself (as a bungling Iranian assassin) to the likes of David Bowie (as a happy British hitman) and a surprised Jim Henson, helping to hold it all together is a killer soundtrack by the late, great BB King. We begin at LAX …

The following review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at his fab Sweet Freedom.

“Where are we going?”
“Away from here!”

When I first heard that BB King had died, at the grand old age of 89 and much too soon, the first thing I did was re-watch Into the Night – not just because I’m a movie nut but because, at age 16, this was when I first heard his music and I was of course knocked out by it. His playing is an integral part to this film, one certainly adorned with more than its fair share of stars.

Into-the-Night01

Goldblum plays Ed Okin, an aerospace engineer who is overcome by some sort of existential malaise that he can’t really define, but which peaks when he catches his wife in bed with another man. Heading off into the night without really knowing why, he gets caught up in the complex life of Diana (Pfeiffer), a jewel smuggler with connections to the movie industry who gets into deadly trouble when she transports jewels that once belonged to the Shah of Iran.

“This is ridiculous. Big shot, huh? You got a gun. Now what? … Let me ask you something. Maybe you can help me. What’s wrong with my life? Why is my wife sleeping with someone else? Why can’t I sleep?”

Set mainly over the course of a couple of days, bookended by dramatic killings at LAX, this is a fascinating example of neo-noir, one that could really only have come from the 1980s though it does in fact have a late 70s coolness to it, from its low-key colour palette, basic understatement and rather languid pace. Indeed, my one criticism (and it’s not much of one) is that it is a bit too slow. We begin with Ed’s meandering life and share this for over a quarter of an hour. This may put some viewers off, which would be a shame as it is designed to offer contrast to what happens when Diana comes bounding into Ed’s life – at which point everything changes, including the pace.

Into-the-Night03

Unlike most examples of the Neo-Noir genre from that decade – and here I’m thinking especially of Against All Odds, Jagged Edge, Body Heat, No Way Out, Sharky’s Machine, DOA – which all have very strong ties to the genre’s prototypes of the 1940s, Into the Night is truly sui generis. If anything what it demonstrates is a genuine screwball sensibility, one that belongs perhaps to the 30s rather than the 40s. I have always felt that the two genres have a lot more in common that one night think and here we don’t have a jazzy score to evoke smoke-filled rooms and femme fatales. Instead this is a tale of urban paranoia laced with jet black comedy in which 80s acquisitiveness and the new international reality of Reaganomics are matched against Hollywood fakery and found wanting.

Into-the-Night02

This is an often very funny film but is definitely an adult entertainment – like Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London, this genre hybrid comes with nudity, bad language and some violence too (I counted at least 12 corpses by the end of the story, most of them gunned down), all of which falls right in with its increasingly surreal tone as the story escalates towards a violent climax back at the airport.

Into-the-Night04

The film is otherwise a notorious for the many, many director cameos, including David Cronenberg as Goldblum’s boss, Don Siegel (as ‘Embarrassed Man’ coming out of a toilet cubicle), Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Demme as law enforcement officials and Roger Vadim as one of the villains (‘Monsieur Melville’). This does in part prepare us for the substantial role that Landis gives himself as the Middle Eastern leader of the four-man henchman hitman squad of the film. They are bumbling idiots who none the less have real bullets in their guns and do in fact go around killing all sorts of people while tripping over their feet – the mixture of comedy and drama can be so difficult that it is rarely attempted within a realistic framework. Here it is completely successful, providing us with a kind of Noir version of such classic comedies as Bringing Up Baby and The Lady Eve in which ladies from money mess up lives of easy-going, placid men who belatedly realise that what they want is in fact a bit of excitement in their lives. Tonally Into the Night tries very hard to keep things together, and against all odds succeeds admirably. Hope you agree.

DVD Availability: Released quite a few years ago in an OK-looking DVD, this is really treasurable for its documentary tribute to BB King. Would wonderful to have this on Blu-ray now though, especially with retrospective comments from cast and crew – this year is its 30th anniversary in fact …

Into the Night (1985)
Director: John Landis
Producer: George Folsey Jr.
Screenplay: Ron Koslow
Cinematography: Robert Paynter
Art Direction: John J. Lloyd
Music: Ira Newborn and BB King
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, John Landis, David Bowie, Irene Papas, Clu Gulager, Kathryn Harrold, Jim Henson, Don Siegel, Vera Miles, Dan Aykroyd, David Cronenberg, Jack Arnold, Paul Mazurky, Lawrence Kasdan

***** (4 fedora tips out of 5)

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68 Responses to Into the Night (1985) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Every once in a while, Sergio, Golblum does do a good job with a role. Sometimes he gets too, well, smarmy and annoying for my taste, but I’m glad he pulls it off here. It sounds like a solid plot too. And sometimes, adult black humour noir works very well.

    • Thanks Margot. Goldblum is certainl;y an eccentric, occasionally even mannered performer, I agree, but I remain a fan because he is wonderfulyl unconventional, wether in THE FLY, THE BIG CHILL or even a LAW & ORDER spin off …

      • Todd Mason says:

        FAY GRIM. Manages to keep up with that film’s turns from farce, to sharpened satire, to increasingly anguished,

        • Not seen it (been ages since I saw a Hal Hartley) – thanks for that.

          • Todd Mason says:

            It sticks with me as an anti-Bond film; Grim, in an espionage swirl, is improvising like mad to try to keep anyone from getting killed, if she can help it in any way. Acute aware of how little control she has. Since it starts with typical Hartley smartassery, if mostly decently so, causes the shifts to jar a little, and, again, stick.

          • I remember when HENRY FOOL came out and deciding that it sounded rather dark and that i didn;t want to see it – and I think i got stuck there … wow, that was ages ago!

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Couldn’t get to the ‘Like’ button fast enough. Man, I love this movie! I know a number of people tend to put it down comparing it to Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS, but I’m the other way around. This really captured the mid-80s time here in LaLa Land (as some affectionately, or not, call my hometown) so freakin’ well. It’s one of my definitive ‘L.A.’ movies, no question. I was thinking of getting out my DVD of it to re-watch, always hoping that some feature-filled Blu-ray would be on its way, finally. Wonderful piece, Sergio! 😀

    • Thanks Michael – and yes, I really should have noted After Hours – there’s a film i haven;t watched in a loong time (it’s brilliant but so uncomfortable!)

  3. le0pard13 says:

    Reblogged this on It Rains… You Get Wet and commented:
    My colleague Sergio nailed why I love this film. I know a number of people tend to put it down comparing it to Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS, but I’m the other way around. This really captured the mid-80s time here in LaLa Land (as some affectionately, or not, call my hometown) so freakin’ well. It’s one of my definitive ‘L.A.’ movies, no question. I was thinking of getting out my DVD of it to re-watch, always hoping that some feature-filled Blu-ray would be on its way, finally. Wonderful piece by Sergio!

  4. Colin says:

    Well written piece, Sergio, although this is a problematic film for me in a few respects. Firstly, I usually struggle with Glodblum, something about him or his performances put me off – illogical maybe, bur there you go.
    However, a bigger issue for me is Landis. Perhaps it’s foolish or petty of me but I find it very difficult to watch anything he’s involved with. Anyway, I don’t want to take things off topic so I’ll say no more about that.

    After Hours tends to get talked up more as an example of this twist on neo-noir, and that’s a movie I’m a bit ambivalent about too – it a kind of sub-genre of a sub-genre that doesn’t quite work for me. Does that actually make any sense?

    • I know what you mean abotu Goldblum’s odd style, and I suspect I know what you are getting at with regard to Landis’ chequered career, but I have always been a fan of his work (there are even things I liked in Oscar). You know, I haven’t seen After Hours since I got the DVD so it’s probably a decade or more now – blimey!

      • Todd Mason says:

        Alas, Landis isn’t the only Hwooder to have accidentally killed someone, even second-hand. Though that it was three doesn’t help. I have to wonder if that tragedy got him thinking along more straitened, philosophical lines.

        • As tragic as that was it always seemed odd to me that Landis should be so singled out. He’s a smart guy with a good understanding of genre (and the industry) and I love his sense of comic timing – it’s a shame that his films often have a rather bland look to them but you could never accuse his stuff of being overblown at least!

      • Colin says:

        I think it might be even longer since saw After Hours – I should look at it again and see if I feel any different about it now.

        • I remember admiring it but not really laughing or liking it. I tend to empathise too much with characters for whom everything goes wrong and everybody else seems to know more than they do – I just feel too sorry for them to laugh at the predicament:)

          • Colin says:

            Yes, I think like that too, which I guess is why I said before that I feel ambivalent towards it.

          • I must admit, until you, Michael and Todd mentioned it, I hadn’t made the connection in my mind. I do tend to get wound up by these kinds of narratives if they seem too cold – I say that as a huge fan of Kafka and the somewhat chilly Coen brothers, so I am being a bit inconsistent here – really do want to see it again now!

  5. Oh, wow. So many things to like. Neo-noir? A Cronenberg cameo? Sign me up. And Goldblum and Pfeiffer look like babies! Gotta find this one, even if it will make me feel ancient.

    • I hate the fact that it was 30 years ago and I remember it better than yesterday – great movie Kelly. Are you now back with us on the blogosphere?

    • Todd Mason says:

      No baby can be as dead sexy as Pfeiffer in this film/1983-4. “I’m not as young as I look.” That’s OK, even though she was.

      • She is great in this and I like the fact that, right to the end, to the last shot in fact, you are not really sure about her. And yes, just heavenly looking – she would have been about 26 at the time?

  6. realthog says:

    You know, I’ve never seen this, and it’s very obvious from your splendid account that I should. Many thanks for the headsup!

  7. A good, nostalgic piece, Sergio. I’m delighted to say I have seen many of the films you mentioned including this one, which was a long time ago. I like Goldblum including in films where his role is rather inconsequential, such as HOLY MAN, for instance. I thought he was good in INDEPENDENCE DAY. To add to what Colin observed, I can’t place him as an actor. It’s like he’s there but not just yet.

    • Goldblum is an odd case, I agree – obviously cast as unusual-looking villains (he was in the original Death Wish for instance) but he has a playful side I really like. And I agree, Holy Man is a lot better than peopl,e think and he was unusually well cast in a romantic role. Thanks Prashant,

  8. Todd Mason says:

    Hm. This film seems so much less a stunt than many other Landis films seem to be…and while I was more than familiar with King, his album with the theme on it, SIX SILVER STRINGS, was the first King LP I’d bought. Quickly added to (and not his best). Pfeiffer and Goldblum are more than fine (but I generally like Goldblum…and always like Pfeiffer). AFTER HOURS similarly good, maybe a bit more forced. ITN has been sitting on my dvr for about six months, and I’ve watched parts of it half a dozen times. I guess I’m surprised so many have missed it…

    • Thanks for that Todd – this seems to be a film that, like Landis’ American Werewolf and Innocent Blood seems to wrongfoot expectation by the mixture of laughs and seriousness, but I think it is very deftly done. Just re-watched part of the super documentary on King, LIFE OF RILEY, and I forgot that the opening quote was by Bill Cosby, which certainly makes it even edgier …

  9. Bradstreet says:

    I remember being at a film convention where Landis was giving a talk. If remember correctly he was disappointed that this movie had more or less faded from view. He said that he intended to give a rather dream-like quality to the story, the irony being that the insomniac hero is drawn ever deeper into a real-life version of a dream from which he struggles to wake up as the events shade into nightmare.

    • Thanks very much for that – I think Landis mostly achieves this, especially in the night sequences early on, like the encounters with Bowie, which don’t really feel real.

  10. Patti Abbott says:

    Remember and liked it too–although not as much as AFTER HOURS. Love Jeff most of the time. He saved, for instance,Le Weekend. I don’t mind he has his own quirky style.

  11. tracybham says:

    I have not seen this but I do like Jeff Goldblum, so I am sure it is worth watching. And for the score and so many interesting actors. I hardly recognized Michele Pfeiffer.

    • Well worth a look Tracy – hope you enjoy it when you do 🙂

      • tracybham says:

        I put it close to the top of the Netflix queue, although it takes so long to get to things, we have so many unwatched at home. We just watched The Wrong Box last night. It was the first time for me. Glen saw it when it came out. He had plenty of theater-going experiences when he was young, his father did installations of equipment in theaters.

        • Wow, been ages since I saw THE WRONG BOX – I thought it an odd film as I recall, though I remember loving the cast and the score by John Barry, especially for the extended chase at the end.

  12. Todd Mason says:

    Roger Ebert’s not atypically clueless assessment: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/into-the-night-1985

    • Shame that – in many other occasions I remember beung really impressed by Ebert’s acuity and perspicacity and willingness to buck the trend (thumb notwithstanding) – not here though 🙂

  13. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have seen the film.
    It is an enjoyable caper movie worth watching. Often very funny both in dialogues and physical actions. However, also filled with several violent scenes.
    Goldblum’s impassive expression is perfect and fits the film.
    It is amazing that so many Hollywood people (mainly directors) are cast in cameo roles. However, since such people generally appear only in credits, one may not recognise them.
    I disagree completely with Roger Ebert’s assessment .

    • Thansk Santosh – and yes, I agree, only film buffs (liek me) will know (or care) that the director of Creature fromt the Black Lagoon plats the guy in the lift with the dog!

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Or that the screenwriter of Midnight Cowboy plays the homeless old man in the alley who tells Ed not to park the car there since it would get towed away !

        • Must admit, even I didn’t know it was Waldo Salt until reading the credits 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Ebert let his buff knowledge of these facts distract him inordinately. He was frequently dense, though you’re right, if something hit his sweet spot, he could explain rather well why it was a good film. He and I are among the relative few who admire Figgis’s HOTEL, for example.

          • Not seen that one though I remember beign impressed by its predecessor, TIMECODE, which I still have on DVD somewhere …

          • Todd Mason says:

            Wonder how flattered Salt was by THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER the title, if not its film so much.

          • Never occurred to me Todd! I would imagine he might have quite liked it 🙂 Been an age since I saw it. Of course, I’m a Willian Goldman fan …

  14. Mike says:

    A long time since I last watched it but I remember loving it, the sense of an increasingly freewheeling plot that could go anywhere. After reading this I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

    • Cheers Mike – I had a great time re-watching it – both slower and less funny that I remembered, but I actually liked how much darkjer it was than I remembered, probably a case of my refashioning my memory in keeping with the general perception of Landis as a comic talent – he is doing somethign different here and very well too 🙂

  15. I saw this in the cinema when it first came out: I was a bit grumpy because a friend insisted on this choice and I didn’t particularly fancy it. But actually I loved it – I think it was the first time I was fully aware of Michele Pfeiffer and she was very good in it – she hadn’t hit the big time and that universal adoration then. I don’t think I was aware of the extent of the cameos back then. My goodness it looks so much of its era doesn’t it? Didn’t do LA any favours. The friend I was with reckoned they had shot an office scene on location and that she knew the office (rows of identikit workers I think?) concerned….
    I haven’t seen it since, I must re-watch.

    • Thanks Moira – more than anything,the films remains a very nice surprise even after all this time. Tell you what though, I would hate to work in an office like that!

  16. tracybham says:

    We finally watched this and I loved it. I agree that it shows the L.A. / Southern California area of that time very well. Cal Worthington ads! Just perfect. And I loved all the cameos. Lots of fun. It reminded both Glen and I of After Hours, although it has been forever since I saw that and he was the big fan of it, not me. I agree the first part setting up Ed’s background was too slow but once it got started it was great. We had been together 5 or 6 years when this was made and we spent a good bit of time in the areas shown in the film in our early years together. Just a kick to see all of that. And the music. Wonderful.

  17. lee winters says:

    Michelle pfeiffer is great in this film. I love her early work. Films like ladyhawke, into the night, and even grease 2. These flicks showed a more likeable side of her, whereas she became more jaded in her later work. Into the night is a well made film with Landis dark sense of humor. I especially loved david bowie as the assasin. I’d love to see the film on bluray.

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