A young courting couple get pulled into a bizarre scheme when they are asked to borrow the identities of their friends to help close a business deal. The main draw of the thing is a very young (and still relatively unknown) Rudolph Valentino.
And you thought your neighbors were nosy…
Rudolph Valentino’s journey to stardom was not an easy one and the fact that the film industry didn’t know what to do with him is well documented. Many of his early roles fell into two categories: oily gigolo (see The Married Virgin) or generic hero-type fella (see The Delicious Little Devil). All Night has him in the second column as Richard Thayer, a society lad who wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
Of course, much of the amusement of viewing these early sweetheart roles is derived from the fact that Valentino’s stock in trade is an aggressive (and often felonious) romancing. In this film, he cowers beneath the covers lest his lady love see him in (gasp!) a full set of pajamas. But aside from the contrast between pre-stardom Rudy and post-stardom Rudy, is All Night worth watching? That’s what we are going to discuss today.
Richard (Valentino, billed as Rudolpho di Valentina) is in love with Beth (Carmel Myers, the top billed star) but he is never able to speak to her alone. This strikes me as a sign that she is Just Not That Into Him but Richard is made of sterner stuff. He tells his friends, the Harcourts (Charles Dorian and Mary Warren), about his romantic woes and they offer to arrange an intimate dinner party for just Beth and Richard.
The Harcourts are in financial trouble due to (plot stuff, plot stuff, plot stuff) and they need an investment from a Montana millionaire named Bradford (William Dyer), a known eccentric. And in a fit of temper, Mr. Harcourt fires his entire domestic staff for daring to ask for their wages in advance. A sympathetic couple, this. To add to the chaos, Beth’s father is your classic “My daughter’s honor shall be preserved!” type and insists that she can be out no later than eleven.
So, Beth and Richard arrive and before he can pitch woo, they are drafted into the Harcourt’s scheme. The Harcourts will pose as the maid and butler while Beth and Richard pose as the Harcourts because… they don’t want to admit they sacked their staff? To make matters worse, eccentric doesn’t even begin to describe Bradford. He is obsessed with Richard and Beth’s sex life and demands to know when they plan to reproduce. When they fail to go to bed, he frog-marches them to the bedroom and dresses Richard in his pajamas, stealing his clothes so he can’t leave.
What… I’ve known people from Montana and not one has ever tried to purloin my wardrobe. It sounds like Bradford belongs in jail because I’m pretty sure keeping people in a room against their will is called kidnapping.
And here we have another problem. Why are the young leads putting up with this? The Harcourts are not likeable enough, nor is their situation dire enough, for us to believe that Beth and Richard must go along with their bizarre scheme. How is saying “All the servants were dismissed!” any stranger than having your guests borrow your identity and posing as the maid and butler yourselves? With this sort of film, there must be escalation, all the logical, sensible options must be exhausted before riskier ploys are attempted. Or the plan should seem normal on the surface until it uproariously falls apart. (Laurel and Hardy were masters of this.) Either way, tension builds as things go steadily wrong and wronger. Result: hilarity. (I would also rather see Laurel and Hardy play the maid and butler, thanks very much.)
To make matters worse, Beth’s dad shows up demanding his daughter and threatening death and dismemberment if she does not return home. He doesn’t recognize the Harcourts… somehow? Anyway, Richard tells Bradford that Beth’s father is a madman and the Harcourts tell Beth’s father that Bradford is a madman and long story short, Daddy Buckshot ends up locked in the pantry.
So, wait a sec. The father is such a creepy, patriarchal pain in the backside that he won’t let his daughter stay out past eleven—not even with a married female companion—but he lets her go to a house owned by people he doesn’t know? I think he just likes to shoot people. Leave him in the pantry, I say!
Ooo, I am getting a headache just typing this so we’ll leave off here. Will Beth and Richard finally get some time together? See All Night to find out!
Okay, let’s start with the main problem of this film: the story. The whole thing is forced, like one of those long, punny jokes that has all sorts of ridiculous details in order to create a punchline so bad that you laugh in spite of yourself.
Example: Kermit the Frog goes to the bank to get a loan. The loan officer is named Patricia Whack and she asks Kermit what he means to use for collateral. Kermit produces a statuette of Miss Piggy but the loan officer says they can’t accept it. Kermit won’t leave without his money so they go to see the bank president. The president looks at the statuette and says: “It’s a knickknack, Patty Whack, give the frog a loan.”
And that, basically, is All Night. A solid hour of it.
See, the difference is that the joke can be told in a few seconds (which is cute) while All Night goes on for considerably longer. The “we’re not married or together and maybe don’t even like one another and yet we are trapped in the same bedroom” rom-com trope is a classic of the genre but it’s so forced here that all the fun is drained from the situation. (See The Girl with the Hat Box for a successful use of the device.)
Just off the top of my head, I can think of a more convincing way to keep them in the bedroom. Say the eccentric brought along his pet buffalo and insists on giving in free run of the house. Or he thinks Beth and Richard are faking their marriage. Or the staircase that leads to the bedroom gets destroyed in a freak accident. None of the scenarios are less plausible than what actually appears in All Night and they have the advantage of also being fun. (By the way, some sources list It Happened One Night as the origin of the shared bedroom trope. Oh please.)
I have seen more than my share of rom-coms and rather enjoy them if they are done well but All Night is too contrived to be believable but not loony enough for a farce. If Beth and Richard had been the straight characters surrounded by madness, it would have worked much better. Instead, everyone just kind of accepts that it’s normal for a father to be mildly homicidal, for a host to have his guests take over his identity and for a millionaire to be THAT nutty. (Seriously, are they sure the checks are real?) In short, it needed to be more or less because it didn’t quite work where it was. (For more, check out the mad rom-com The Oyster Princess. For less, check out Why Change Your Wife, which starts off as normal and slowly descends into madness.)
If you think I am being unduly harsh, I must advise you not to read the 1918 review in The Film Daily, which savages this picture most efficiently. While it praises the film’s atmosphere, interiors and lighting, the magazine finds fault with almost everything else:
“All through this offering we had action in every scene, but the forced attempts to make it funny failed to result as desired because it is seldom possible to get laughs when the director and players are working so terribly hard for them… The day has passed when wild action and footage registers as a good film. The situations in this were old hokum farce and they were not played with the proper finesse of characterization to make them funny.”
The magazine, which was aimed at theater owners, further states that “it is quite possible that the average audience will accept this without serious complaint, principally because it is no worse than hundreds of other productions that have been handed to them in the past. Certainly I would not advise you to reach out for this, and if you have a contract which makes it necessary for you to play it, I would use a soft pedal.”
Owch! One is reminded of Harpo Marx’s capsule review of Abie’s Irish Rose: no worse than a bad cold.
But All Night does have one secret weapon up its sleeve. I have said for years that Rudolph Valentino was okay at the passion stuff but his real gift was comedy. His performance has been compared to Buster Keaton but since Buster Keaton was still in the Comique phase of his career, it’s more fair to say Keaton is like Valentino in All Night.
Richard is the only character whose reactions seem in any way appropriate and he growing exasperation is amusing, though one does wish he would have gotten up the gumption to sock both Harcourt and Bradford. He even gets to deliver what is easily the film’s best line:
(Though I should note that the title cards are clearly from a reissue—the Futura typeface was not released until 1927—so it may not be authentic.)
Carmel Myers doesn’t work out quite as well. Her character is so cartoonishly prim that it makes it difficult to relate to her on any level. I get that a sheltered young lady of the time would not like certain subjects addressed but to absolutely freak out at the mere mention of children? Not sex, not pregnancy or childbirth, children. Um, yeah, she has issues. Probably stemming from her bizarre and psycho father, I’ll wager. One is reminded of the Monty Python mattress sketch and wonders whether her friends and family have to stand in a tea chest and sing Jerusalem to get her to calm down. Part of me wants to dump her in the middle of a daycare just to see what will happen. (Don’t nobody tell her about rabbits.)
This is especially funny considering that Myers’s most famous role is as the vampish Iras in Ben-Hur. You can bet she wasn’t afraid to hear about children.
The Harcourts? Feh. Let them rot. Bradford? I hope he loses all his money so people stop indulging his strange impulses. Beth’s dad? It would be a shame if something went wrong on a hunting trip.
Despite my sarcasm, this film isn’t awful, it’s just that it doesn’t stand up to even the tiniest shred of thinking. Rom-coms are scorned in some circles but a great many of them are witty and as intricately plotted as any espionage picture. In fact, the smarter they are, the better they are. Just ask Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges. There’s nothing better than a good rom-com but too many rely on tricks and cheats to get the characters from Point A to Point B, as is the case here.
All Night is definitely worth seeing for Valentino fans as his performance is quite enjoyable and he does what he can with the thin material. Just don’t expect a masterpiece.
Where can I see it?
Grapevine has released it on DVD but the image quality is pretty soft. I am not sure if better material survives.
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