Long Night, The (1947): Litvak’s Crime Noir, Starring Henry Fonda, Starring Barbara Bel Geddes, Vincent Price and Ann Dvorak

Anatole Litvak directed The Long Night, a crime noir, starring Henry Fonda, Barbara Bel Geddes, Vincent Price and Ann Dvorak. 

It is a loose remake of Marcel Carne’s 1939 “Le Jour Se Lève,” a French idiom which translates into “Day is breaking.”

When a dead man tumbles down the stairs, the police arrive at the top-floor flat of Joe Adams (Fonda), who shoots at them through the door.

In a flashback, Adams begins to recall the circumstances leading to the event, beginning with chance encounter with Jo Ann (Barbara Bel Geddes), who works in a flower shop.

The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks, and flashback within a flashback, as Joe recalls what Jo Ann had told him about her life; they share the same name and had been raised in the same orphanage.

He follows her to a nightclub where Maximilian (Vincent Price) is performing a magic act. At the bar, Joe gets to know Charlene (Ann Dvorak), who had just quit as Max’s assistant.

Max claims to be the long-lost father og Jo Ann, who was picked out by Charlene and brought on stage, then continued a relationship.  Jo Ann fiercely denies Max’s story, claiming that she had to fend off Max’s romantic advances.

The two women fall for Joe but leave him mystified, as both have received the same brooch from Max. Jo Ann naively believes that hers is a rare antique, whereas the more worldly-wise Charlene now has a whole display card of them.

When Max first arrives at Joe’s boarding house room, he demands that he leave Jo Ann alone. In their argument, Joe pushes Max halfway out of the window but cannot bring himself to kill him.

The snobbish Max begins to taunt Joe, showing superiority.  When he insinuates that he and Jo Ann had a sexual affair, the enraged Joe shoots Max.

Jo Ann manages to talk Joe into giving himself up, promising to wait for him after prison. Joe’s coworkers and neighbors, including Bill Pulanski, and Frank Dunlap (who’s blind), show encouraging support.

In the narration, Fonda says, “maybe it was bound to happen,” reflecting one of the recurring motifs of film noir, fatalism and lack of control.

The film marked the first appearance of Barbara Bel Geddes, an actress who would make her mark in the next decade in a variety of films, including Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo.

Henry Fonda as Joe Adams
Barbara Bel Geddes as Jo Ann
Vincent Price as Maximilian
Ann Dvorak as Charlene (Charley)
Howard Freeman as Sheriff Ned Meade
Moroni Olsen as Chief of Police
Elisha Cook Jr. as Frank Dunlap