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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Midnight Man (Blu-ray)
The Midnight Man (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // R // February 26, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 20, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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A murder-mystery jointly produced, written, and directed by star Burt Lancaster and frequent collaborator Roland Kibbee, The Midnight Man (1974), is not the turgid, clunky film I was expecting. Indeed, in many ways it's not much like other ‘70s films of its genre at all, instead strongly resembling much later high-quality murder-mysteries produced for British television. Like Inspector Morse (1987-2000) and its follow-ups, it has adopts a low-key, methodically-paced approach, and like Broadchurch (2013-2017), the identity of the murderer is almost secondary to the story's exploration of a small community's deep dark secrets, skeletons in myriad closets which the investigation gradually reveals. The Midnight Man is not at all great cinema, but it's intelligent and for its time, surprising.

Adapted from David Anthony's novel The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man, the film stars Lancaster as Jim Slade, a former Chicago police detective newly released from prison and on parole. (The audience does not learn why he went to prison until about the halfway point.) Under the terms of his release, he moves into the home of longtime friends Quartz (Cameron Mitchell), an ex-cop, and his wife, Judy (Joan Loring), and accepts a job working as a night watchman at Jordon College (played by Clemson University).

A beautiful but deeply troubled coed, Natalie Clayborne (Catherine Bach), the daughter of a powerful senator, is found murdered in her dorm room. Slade's investigative instincts kick in and he soon realizes the local sheriff, Casey (Harris Yurlin), is in way over his head, the lawman anxious to railroad religious fanatic janitor Ewing (Charles Tyner), clearly not the killer.

Against the advice of attractive parole officer, Linda Thorpe (Susan Clark), she currently dating a married bar owner but also attracted to Slade, he privately continues to investigate the crime, the stakes soon raised when attempts are made on his life.

The Midnight Man has been described as Byzantine and confusing, crammed as it is with so many characters, also including a lecherous college professor (Lawrence Dobkin), an abusive deputy, a corrupt politician (Morgan Woodward) and his even more corrupt underling (Quinn Redeker), a frosty psychology teacher (Robert Quarry), three backwoods thugs (including Ed Lauter and Mills Watson), and their Ma Barker-type matriarch. But anyone weaned on British TV mystery shows will have no problem following the story's many twists and turns, and might well guess the killer's identity before it's over. (I had it narrowed down to two suspects and had, sort of, guessed it correctly.)

The role of Jim Slade is a near-perfect fit for Lancaster, at his best playing down-and-out characters subtly reacting to conflict that usually puts him at a disadvantage, often quietly but sensibly expressing dismay at the way a situation is being handled. In sharp contrast to the usual ‘70s cop or vigilante, Slade understands his tenuous position as a mere night watchman on parole, and constantly holds back, remaining polite and deferential, never blowing his stack. He spends much of the picture in his watchman's uniform, even (somewhat ludicrously) carrying a flashlight at all times, even broad daylight. It's a wise decision, however, as that uniform constantly reminds the audience (as well as the other characters in the story) just how limited Slade's power and influence over the investigation is.

Though probably The Midnight Man could now be shown on local television in the middle of the afternoon with only its profanity deleted, the R-rated film was pretty salacious for its time, with its references to incest and lesbianism, predatory college teachers and the like. One extremely well-conceived action sequence, Slade escapes from the redneck family eager to torture him, and is extremely violent for its time, with one especially shocking death, ingeniously executed by a stuntman and a shrewdly placed camera angle.

The cast, mostly actors who at the time straddled movie and TV guest shot assignments, is very good, especially Cameron Mitchell as Slade's old friend. (Amusingly, around this time Mitchell also worked on Orson Welles's The Other Side of the Wind. He wears nearly the same costume and, in both films, has extended scenes as a bus passenger.) Bill Lancaster, Burt's son and later a prominent screenwriter (Carpenter's The Thing), has a sizable role as Natalie's estranged boyfriend while a pre-Lous Grant Linda Kelsey plays her distraught roommate.

Video & Audio

Kino's Blu-ray of The Midnight Man, licensed from Universal, looks good if not spectacularly so. Competently photographed but without much in the way of visual flair, the 1.85:1 widescreen image appears to accurately capture the look of original release prints. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono is fine, and supported by optional English subtitles. Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

The lone supplement is an audio commentary featuring film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.

Parting Thoughts

Unexpectedly satisfying, The Midnight Man is Recommended for fans of British mystery shows particularly.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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