It actually took three night's work to get through this sleep-inducing dozer. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection of hard-to-find cult and library titles has found the not-at-all-hard-to-find 2005 Paramount disc of 1961's All in a Night's Work and inexplicably re-released it under their own banner. Starring Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Cliff Robertson, Charlie Ruggles, Norma Crane, Jerome Cowan, Gale Gordon, and Jack Weston, All in a Night's Work is a really pathetic excuse for a 60s sex comedy: no "sex" (as expected) and certainly no "comedy." Now...why would Warners waste their time on this dog--one that another studio put out years ago on DVD to no great acclaim--when there are still WB library titles out there that haven't seen the light of DVD day? Good question, gentle reader.... No extras for this nice widescreen transfer.
When magazine mogul Colonel Ryder is found dead in a Miami hotel bed--wearing a grin you couldn't pry off with a crowbar--distant nephew Tony Ryder (Dean Martin) suddenly finds himself the sole heir to the Ryder Magazine empire. The Ryder board of directors, including Sam Weaver (Jerome Cowan) and Oliver Dunning (Gale Gordon), are dubious about young wastrel Tony's abilities, but that's nothing next to the spook they get when Miami investigator Lasker (Jack Weston) shows up. It seems that Lasker spotted a young lady, clad only in a towel, come busting out of the Colonel's bedroom right before he died, and Lasker expects--knowing firsthand about the Colonel's, er, um...healthy appetites--that the girl will come to New York, looking for an extortion hand-out. Tony "hires" Lasker to stick around in his Research Department in hopes that he can positively I.D. the girl when she shows, but little do both of them know that the girl is right under their noses: Katie Robbins (Shirley MacLaine), junior researcher for Ryder Magazine. Katie, engaged to veterinarian/animal analyst Warren Kingsley, Jr. (Cliff Robertson), has no idea why Tony would offer her such a generous raise of $200 a week...until she realizes what, exactly, Tony thinks she is, and that's when the real complications begin.
Jesus Christ how do you screw up a sex comedy with suave, charming Martin and pixyish and very pliable MacLaine? If you've read MacLaine's memoirs, you'll know that she harbored an almost painful, years-long infatuation with the dreamy crooner, even becoming an unofficial "Clan" member just to hang out with the married Martin, whom she first met while making Some Came Running. One would think, with that undercurrent of desire running at least one way (Martin, according to reports, was all gentleman with MacLaine), that some kind of jolt of electricity would spark up through the layers of dead wood that makes up All in a Night's Work's convoluted-yet-undeveloped framework. However, MacLaine and Martin as a bickering, bantering couple completely fizzle here, with not a trace of repressed sexual tension peeping through this thin, ridiculous-even-by-the-genre's-standards set-up (there was an old Hollywood adage that claimed many co-stars who really were in love--or lust--somehow couldn't fully convey that on screen, while those that hated each other frequently pulled it off). And since All in a Night's Work makes a point of having MacLaine be a "good girl" right off the bat (the script blows any suspense the movie might have had by telling us she didn't do anything in that hotel room), and portrays Martin as more afraid of MacLaine's blackmailing than interested in what was underneath that towel, even their characters here are neutered blahs who screech alot...but never get breathy and hazy in each other's arms. So a so-called "sex comedy" without the sex had better be comedic (in just a few short scenes, Broadway powerhouse Norma Crane, in a sleek pencil skirt and tight sweater, conveys more intriguing, mature sex appeal than superficially spastic, calculatingly "kooky" MacLaine musters in the whole 94 minutes here).
As for the obvious Pirandello checklist of misunderstandings here: who wrote this grab bag of undeveloped plotlines and wheezy slapstick gags...or edited it down into incoherency? Based on a play by Owen Elford, and a story by Margit Veszi, no less than three screenwriters take credit for this: Edmund Beloin (fun Bob Hope vehicles like My Favorite Spy, Road to Rio, The Lemon Drop Kid), Maurice Richlin (classic romantic comedies like Pillow Talk, Operation Petticoat, and The Pink Panther), and future best selling author Sidney Sheldon (The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Easter Parade, TV's I Dream of Jeannie). Whether it was a case of too many cooks or a post-production hack-job, far too much of All in a Night's Work comes and goes without the slightest bit of context or pay-off. How does the Ryder board know Tony's a slacker playboy...when Tony explains to Katie that he worked his way up from the bottom at a rival publishing company? Why does the script keep bringing up the unseen bank officer friend of Tony's, "Pudge Hamilton," and then never give him one scene to cement his pivotal role in the plot? Why does the script make a point of indicating Dr. Kingsley psychoanalyzes his animal patients...and then not give at least one gag for it? Indeed...what the hell is this character here for, other than as balance on the other side of the widescreen frame (what was Robertson thinking when he took this crummy part)? Why are we given a funny build-up to a potential romance between Marge and Lasker...and then it's completely dropped (the minute Crane and Weston appear together, I wished the movie had been about them)? Why do we get set-up for some kind of union/boss conflict at Ryder (probably the movie's funniest scene, with pros Cowan and Gordon getting laughs as they preemptively bark threats at the workers' committee)...which is then completely dropped? Why does Katie take Tony's offer of a $200 dollar a week raise...when she already emphatically stated she wouldn't? Why does Tony nonsensically insist he needs to size up Dr. Kingsley in his efforts to ascertain Katie's guilt or innocence? Why do we get a scene of nervous MacLaine entertaining Dr. Kingsley's parents, plopped down right in the middle of the movie and thus derailing the arc of Tony's and Katie's story--a scene that seems lifted from another movie? And why at the very end of the movie do we need another flashback to Miami to explain what we already know about Katie: that she didn't do anything with Colonel Ryder? I fully understand that a screwball romantic farce necessarily needs frenzied complications to accentuate the laughs, but those intricate elements need at least some context...and even if they don't, then they certainly need a pay-off, which doesn't happen here.
Even worse is All in a Night's Work's production and direction. Producer Hal Wallis was called "cheap" by a lot of contract actors who didn't like his salary terms (...like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis), but he could usually be counted on to deliver, at the very least, a good-looking product. All in a Night's Work, though, is one cheap, ugly-looking movie, with chintzy, threadbare sets, unflatteringly lit, and even camera angles that appear "off" (there's an over-the-shoulder-shot scene that cuts back and forth between Martin and MacLaine, where the back of Martin's head occupies almost center-frame while MacLaine's face is in partial shadow: inexcusable in an A-list Hollywood studio production at that time). Also "off" is theater/movie director Joseph Anthony's timing and tone. All in a Night's Work was a reunion for Anthony, Martin and MacLaine, after their critically well-received (but b.o. stinker), Career, two years earlier. It's hard to fathom, however, what a director who had helmed serious pictures like The Rainmaker, The Matchmaker, and Career, and who in 1960-1961 alone opened four Broadway classics single-handedly (The Best Man, Under the Yum Yum Tree, Rhinoceros, and Mary, Mary), would see in such a crappy little endeavor like All in a Night's Work. You can blame a shoddy script or post-production editing for All in a Night's Work's overall choppy feel, but there's no running away from the fact that Anthony's individual scenes don't work, either. There's a forced-but-plodding, dulled, distinctly unfunny feel to each scene which finds the performers either distracted and fumbling (Martin), or gratingly shrill (MacLaine's supposedly "laugh-riot" funeral scene is a wonder of grotesque misjudgment in her fake, awful wailing and Anthony's unflattering close-ups) By the final awkward, extended confrontation at Martin's unaccountably cramped bachelor pad (it looks like a thrifty television series set), we're not rooting for anyone here as the ungodly minutes pass as MacLaine for the umpteenth time screeches she's a good girl, and Martin sneers unattractively as he gets it wrong about her yet again. I've no doubt that All in a Night's Work made a profit for those involved (I would imagine the scenes of MacLaine running around the set in only a towel, barely holding it up, would have been enough for sufficient foot traffic back in those mind-bogglingly more innocent movie days), but watching it today, it's hard not to rate All in a Night's Work as a complete and utter failure of rather unexpectedly large proportions.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.