Tuesday, January 09, 2018

NIGHT OF THE QUARTER MOON (1959)

The Nelson brothers, Chuck and Lex, members of a wealthy San Francisco family, are on a fishing vacation in Mexico. Lex (Dean Jones) is a frequent visitor and he has brought Chuck (John Drew Barrymore), a post-traumatic stress sufferer from his time as a POW during the Korean War. While there, Chuck meets and snuggles up with Ginny (Julie London), a knockout who, after they begin dating, tells him she is one-quarter black African (Portuguese-Angolan, to be precise). He doesn't care, he's just glad to have found someone to love and help him recuperate from his war experiences.  Chuck proposes to Ginny, she accepts—though she also warns him about potential problems her race may cause. Back in San Francisco, Cornelia, the family matriarch (Agnes Moorehead) is happy for Chuck at first, but when reporters get wind of Ginny's background, it's splashed all over the front pages: "Bride Revealed as Quadroon!" The two move into a nice suburban house, but the neighbors let their disgust be known with unfriendly words (chants of "Back to Mexico!") and rocks thrown through windows. When the police respond, Chuck has a flashback to Korea and Cornelia, claiming he is sick, takes him to her home, refusing to let Ginny see him. She keeps him in a mentally weakened state and starts annulment proceedings, based on the idea that Ginny kept her racial background a secret from Chuck—we know the truth, but the traumatized Chuck is essentially brainwashed by his mother and brother to follow the family line, and in the end, the case winds up in the courtroom where Ginny's lawyer (James Edwards) resorts to stripping Ginny to show that her skin is dark enough that Chuck had to have known the truth.

Hugo Haas, the director of this movie, has a cult following for his B-melodramas featuring bad and buxom female leads. Here, Julie London's character is the good girl, but she plays the role of the put-upon wife with passivity and glumness, and a spark of bad girl "oomph" would have been welcome. The other actors, with the occasional exception of Agnes Moorehead, also register drably, so while it's difficult to be critical of the movie's anti-racist intentions, one wishes that there was more energy in the performances. Barrymore (son of John and father of Drew), like London, is more or less left at sea by what I take to be listless direction by Haas. I suppose it's a good thing that Barrymore doesn't go off the deep end in his portrayal of the damaged rich boy, but his character is one-note all the way through. Dean Jones is better, but he's hampered by the inconsistencies of his character who seems to be on Barrymore's side in the beginning but soon plants himself in Moorehead's camp for no compelling reason. Nat King Cole is fine in a thankless role as a nightclub perfomer—he gets to sing, but oddly, Julie London, known for her sultry vocal stylings, does not. Of course, the biggest problem here is that London is, as others have said, one of the whitest women around, so even though she is darkened a bit with makeup, she really wasn't the best choice for the role. The best scene, and the one that almost tips it into camp classic territory, is the courtroom scene at the end in which Edwards (giving a fine performance) literally rips her dress off to show the judge her skin. This film is a real curiosity piece—not a classic, but interesting.

1 comment:

Eddie Styles said...

I wish they'd release this on dvd. The stars in this movie are unbelievable.