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This Side of Boredom

The Other Side of Midnight directed by Charles Jarrot at the Beacon Hill Cinema

By Margot A. Patterson

TAKE ALL the bad movies you have ever seen and put them together, and you may come up with something approaching the total worthlessness of The Other Side of Midnight. The film is a cinematic version of the kind of novels that Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susanne write--packed with romance, sex and adventure, protrayed in the most tasteless and cliched manner. It's the type of movie that P.R. men probably would advertise as "epic," meaning that it's long (a gruelling two hours and 45 minutes), lavish and full of lurid scenes. The Other Side of Midnight has the dubious distinction of containing more outrageously tacky moments than one ever would have though it possible to put into one movie. As the film moves from the slums of Marseilles to Paris, Washington, D.C., Hollywood and the Greek islands, we see one rape, several seductions and sex scenes, a self-inflicted abortion, two attempts at murder and an execution before a firing squad.

The novel concerns the transformation of an innocent young French girl into a famous actress, mistress to the richest man in the world and would-be murderess. The story opens in Marseilles in 1939. Noelle Page's father sells her to the lascivious owner of a clothing store. Noelle escapes to Paris where, her first day there, she meets a dashing young American pilot named Larry Douglas. She falls in love with him and the two have an affair. There are the obligatory shots of the two young lovers romping in the park, gazing soulfully into each other's eyes and strolling hand in hand along the Seine to schmaltzy romantic music playing the background. But soon Douglas flies off, leaving Noelle with the promise of a reunion and marriage in three weeks time.

Noelle faithfully waits for Douglas but he never returns and she learns that what for her was true love was for him a casual affair. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Noelle accordingly swears vengeance. Progressing from bedroom to bedroom, Noelle eventually becomes a famous actress or in a position to gain her revenge. By this time, Larry has married a pert American girl named Catherine and the audience has sat through another sequence of glossy romantic shots, this time in Washington. Noelle manages to hire Larry, recently out of work and desperate for a job, as the pilot of her private plane. She subjects him to one humiliation on top of another before he finally retaliates by brutally kissing her. She melts and love, or rather lust, conquers all. The two plan to murder Larry's wife and the story goes on. And on. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum.

DIRECTOR Charles Jarrot is singularly unconcerned with the many implausibilities of the script or the issue of verisimilitude in general. The movie is set in the 1940s but everyone is wearing contemporary fashions. He seems similarly uninterested in the subtleties of character portrayal and opts instead for hackneyed gestures and poses from his cast. The stars of the movie are Susan Srandon, John Beck and Marie-France Pisier. Pisier, who plays Noelle, was lauded for her role in Cousin, Cousine, but the script is so thin there is little that she can do in this film. Pisier looks winsome, haughty or sultry as the occasion demands and tosses her hair back a lot (it's supposed to be sexy) in a fair imitation of the Breck shampoo girl.

The others fare no better. The screenplay by Herman Reuscher and Daniel Taradesh is so bad as to be ludicruous, and destroys any chance that a creditable performance could be salvaged from this trash. One gem, an example of Rouscher and Taradesh's efforts at alliteration and their aspirations to literary merit, has Catherine telling Douglas, "If you don't love me, Larry, don't lay me." Such is the level of wit in this relentlessly awful movie.

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