Into The Night Review
Retrospectively, looking back on Into The Night, it is wonderful how director John Landis has actor Jeff Goldblum working in a plain office doing a job that needs no other distinction than appearing awfully boring, and probably requiring its workers to turn-up nine to five, five days a week. His actual job is information not required, the only thing worth noting the fact it has something to do with the machination of technology. It’s an idea that extends to his life in that he is so bored with the everyday machination of his being (like in the board meeting when his turn to speak interrupts the flow because he isn’t doing his work properly), he’s inadvertently trying to break down the boundaries of the familiar conventions that bind him. It’s almost as if he wants to breakout but he can’t bring himself to do it - a fear of the unknown, of what isn’t conventionally part of his life, preventing his desperation to break free. The fact he has insomnia signals that inadvertent rebellion, but coming home one day to hear his wife screaming in orgasmic pleasure with an anonymous stranger triggers his pursuit of change – his pursuit for adventure. Into The Night shares some similarity to Scorsese’s After Hours - two films that flirt with the idea of ‘ordinary’ thirty-something men working in jobs that appear to trap them, both looking for the catalyst that opens new territory and new ideas. They share the femme fatale and both are primarily set at night, but these films are not about a lewd concourse between a man and a woman, they’re about musing about life outside of one’s own and finding adventure when the walls of the American dream have broken down.
The film begins with a plane landing, followed by shots of corporate Americana before gently moving towards a quiet suburb, entering the bedroom of a house owned by Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) who sits in bed, wide awake, next to his sleeping wife. Ed has insomnia. He tells his friend Herb (Dan Aykroyd) who recommends he uses it to his advantage and takes the late flight to Las Vegas. He’s unsure at first but when he comes home to find his wife having an affair, he heads to the airport. Parking the car, Ed takes a moment to survey his predicament, but his attention is quickly removed to a distraught young woman who gets in the car and begs him to drive away. Four armed men chase the vehicle out of the parking lot but Ed is able to escape. The girl tells him her name is Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), and that she doesn’t know why the SAVAK (Iranian secret police) were following her, but they murdered her friend as they got off the plane. Ed probes her for information that she isn’t willing to provide, she just asks him to take her home. However, Ed is about to endure a very long night of murder, mystery and intrigue, because after taking her in, he inadvertently became another player in a dangerous, cat and mouse adventure, set to the backdrop of a cold Los Angeles night.
Essentially, Into The Night is about superficiality, in that life is based on false pretences. If we live our lives by pre-conditions what will happen if we are faced with a series of unconditional, uncertain avenues? Ed Okin is told that Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) has nothing of her own, that she has only what is given or what she takes. This is mirrored in him because his own life is simply based on what has been given to him such as the conventions of getting married, having a steady job, a car and a house – all things that are supposed to equal happiness but there’s something distinctly missing in his life. He’s accepted all these things because he knows of no other way but if they are supposed to make you happy, then why isn’t he? Director Landis continually abuses our senses with the superficial world that surrounds us – Diana is a model for instance, and Ed examines the stylised photos at her apartment. Her brother idolises Elvis and tries to live like the man himself, driving around in a car that proclaims ‘The King Lives’. Indeed, when Ed and Diana visit a film set in search of her friend, it is the artificial props that cause Ed a problem as he leans against a false wall and falls through it, and sits on a papier-mâché rock crumpling it to a pulp, and then tries to make a call from a fake phone as two prop engineers take it away. It’s interesting that the goon’s that chase Ed and Diana around the city destroy every place they visit looking for clues to their whereabouts, as they put to the scrap heap the very physical embodiments of the superficiality that bind us – they break a film director’s awards, smash televisions, vinyl records and stereos. In essence, Landis reverses the narrative psychology of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ character roles, in that what the corrupt, and potentially evil SAVAK are doing is the very thing Ed needs to save himself. The SAVAK agents are not content with what is given to them, they are chasing the riches. When Ed and Diana meet, it’s at the airport and Diana asks Ed why he was there. He tells her that his life isn’t working out somehow, but Diana wonders why he is drawn to the airport. He has no answer, but it seems to lead to the idea that he inadvertently tries to chase the ‘riches’ like his insomnia being an inadvertent rebellion to life’s constraints. The airport signifies a place of relatively infinite possibilities with its key to the world – other countries, other cultures, other people. Finally, when cornered by the Iranian secret police and questioned Ed starts to fictionalise his reason for being caught up in the situation – ‘I’m on her majesty’s secret service, we’ve got the place surrounded’. Shrugging he says, ‘I’m really from immigration, we thought you had some illegal aliens working around here.’ Ed begins to breakdown the superficiality that binds him, embracing it, consciously fictionalising his predicament into a fantasy world that holds no such boundaries, conventions or constraints.
Landis paints Ed’s ‘adventure’ much like a dream, Goldblum’s forlorn facial expression indicating he can’t remember the last time he slept. He allows bits of information to come through but Landis captivates the viewer by a languid narrative that is part road-movie, part mystery, which seems at times as rebellious to convention as Ed wants to be. Landis takes the film on quite unique tangents, his unhurried pace a sign of Ed’s tired insomniac. In between quips about American consumerism, he keeps Ed and the audience in the dark, much like the night that surrounds them, and through following a rather arbitrary plot direction Landis is able to instill the indistinctive, incomprehension of a nightmare that bares no outcome. In essence, the film could be seen as Ed’s dream played-out in reality, though it takes the form of a nightmare because that is how he sees his life. It’s ironic then, that to learn from a nightmare you have to stay awake all the way through it, but that again is another example of the film’s rebellion of constraints that bind society.
Whether Into The Night is an interpretation of Ed’s dream or reality itself, it’s quite unforgiving in its bleak outlook, Landis depicting a world of corrupt excess and a pessimism rooted in big business capitalism that permeates from characters that are seemingly miserable in their riches, or chasing such riches within the confines of violent, greed-ridden crime. The SAVAK want Diana’s diamonds and are willing to kill anyone that gets in their way, while a mysterious French entrepreneur with a British henchman also wants to get his hands on them (Landis using their very different nationalities to suggest that the problem is hardly local, perhaps a rather haphazard criticism of globalisation), both manoeuvring in the criminal underworld. Yet the ones that have riches fair no better as Diana’s ex-sugar Daddy is a dying cripple of a man who hates his wife, and whose many expensive cars lay soullessly in an oversized driveway. Similarly, a Hollywood producer is more dismayed at his film awards being smashed than his trophy-girl – when the police ask he claims he doesn’t know what happened to her even though her dead body lays a hundred yards away on the beach, his preoccupations going no further than his broken living room. Landis provides a quite horrid sense of life based on commercialised excess, to the point of it being an epidemic that breeds through a weakened, consumerist society beautifully depicted in Diana’s brother whose fascinated, idolisation of Elvis Presley has turned him into a social misfit who struggles to even afford a downtrodden, one bedroom apartment. In a sense, it isn’t apparent what Ed really wants, but he doesn’t know himself, because his life has become alien to him – his words in the face of certain death, ‘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?’ are a haunting reminder that the answers are a little hard to come by when the reassuring conventions that govern ones life have broken and you’re looking beyond the profit-margins and collector’s items, the adverts for cheap dinners and the fast cars that guarantee the trophy-blonde.
Into The Night has been criticised for being overly self-referential and it would be unwise to overlook Landis’ constant use of cameos in the form of 'director' friends that show-up constantly in the movie (from Lawrence Kasdan, David Cronenberg and Landis himself, to Amy Heckerling, Jonathan Lynn, Paul Mazursky, and Don Siegel, plus many more), and his homage to one of the first films that could be termed post-modern Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, which is shown within the film. In many ways, Into The Night acknowledges itself as an entity apart from the ‘real’ world, much like the nineties vogue kick-started by Wes Craven with New Nightmare and continued through Scream and its sequels. Here were movies where the characters acknowledged their existence within a film, their lives governed by conventions set out in fictionalised accounts within previous films. It’s certainly an idea that examples Landis’ love for movies, but also shows how popular culture governs cultural identity as reality and fiction blur, so that they are hardly separate entities at all. Taken at face value, this is as superficial as the phoney-reality the film criticises, but underneath it’s a post-modern fear of mass cultural identity disappearing into itself, so that Ed’s question of ‘what’s wrong with my life’ becomes the rather more complex ‘what is life itself?’
Landis has certainly concocted an enjoyable journey into the enclosed, urban expanse of inner-city Los Angeles - an ‘island’ surrounded by the build-up of its own excesses. Ed’s adventure is frequently amusing, largely through Goldblum’s laconic, deadpan performance but Landis juxtaposes the humour (the SAVAK’s pursuit painted in cartoon-like styling as if they are bumbling bad guys following a treasure map) with reasonably graphic violence (when a girl is drowned, and when David Bowie’s psychotic Englishman kills some people who offered to help Diana). The film takes no half-measures right down to a genuine fear of the upper classes, and a lack of confidence in an evidently corrupt police force. Yet the film’s sense of ambiguity (both in Ed’s character whose core is born out of an existentialism that is suggested by the world that surrounds him, and in the mystery of Diana’s femme-fatale) is what holds everything together. The film’s episodic nature is far more fulfilling than the term might suggest, each segment offering another clue to Ed’s predicament, his world, rather than a narrative cog for the plot to move forward. Landis is far more concerned with Ed’s life than Diana’s survival, that everything that happens is simply a clue to where ‘X’ marks the spot, not in terms of hidden treasure but in Ed himself. For Ed, the ‘gold’ is the answer to his question ‘what’s wrong with my life’, and for Landis, it is the utterly brilliant premise for us to find out. This is a true, underrated, eighties classic.
It’s a shame Universal haven’t provided a ‘special’ edition of this film on DVD, as the one additional feature, B.B King: ‘Into The Night’ is nice but rather unfulfilling. They have however, provided the film with good sound and excellent picture quality that remains true to the film’s original theatrical exhibition.
The picture is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. Robert Paynter’s photography in Into The Night’s dark exteriors look wonderfully crisp and clear, displaying a lot of detail. Colours are a little faded but true to the rather indistinct, bland cinematography that was used for the film. The print is in notably good condition displaying very little noticeable grain or artefacts.
The soundtrack hasn’t been re-mastered which is unfortunate given its stereo origins, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack does a good enough job. Remaining rather mono throughout, dialogue is clear and music doesn’t drown out speech. Directionality is kept to a minimum but this track is fine for this type of film.
The only additional feature is the W.C Handy Award-Winning documentary ‘B.B King: Into The Night’ which is actually very good. It starts off with a performance of the title song by B.B King which is particularly funny and notable for the backing group that accompanies the singer/songwriter. On drums is Eddie Murphy, on piano Jeff Goldblum, and in the brass section: Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin and Michelle Pfeiffer – it’s actually quite funny, especially Eddie Murphy’s winks to the camera, and again it seems that Landis has called on his friends to help him out. The documentary proceeds to briefly look at B.B King’s career through an interview with Landis himself, and also looks at how the title song came about and why it was used in the film. There’s some lovely footage of King playing for Landis, as the documentary appears at times to be more a film about Blues music rather than the film itself, but it’s an enjoyable experience. The documentary ends with more footage of King playing with Aykoryd, Goldblum, Martin, Murphy and Pfeiffer. It is approximately 26 minutes long and presented in full-frame 4:3, from what looks like a VHS master.
John Landis has made some notably great films during his career and doesn’t appear to get the credit he deserves. An American Werewolf In London is one of my favourite films of all time, and surely one of the best horror movies ever made, but then I’m reminded the man has made some of the best comedies to ever grace cinema with Blues Brothers and Trading Places. His influential work on music videos should not be overlooked, and even his less prominent movies have become cult favourites such as Animal House, Spies Like Us, Coming To America, and Innocent Blood. It is a shame Into The Night is not more widely recognised, as it’s a brilliant film that above all else, is one of the most enjoyable to come out of the eighties. The DVD is fine with good picture and sound, and an interesting documentary but it would be nice if Universal were to produce a loaded ‘special edition’ for this simply wonderful movie.