You’d have thought the young Pamela Franklin would’ve learned her lesson having already just starred in this 1968 offering from the curiously named director-writer Hubert Cornfield, but the pretty British starlet came back for more Gallic themed terror a few years later in Brian Clemens’ woman-in-peril psycho-thriller “And Soon the Darkness” -- in which she played a British holidaymaker stalked through a picturesque rural France by a maniac who kills her best friend. In this equally floridly named thriller (pitched oddly somewhere between offbeat Pinter-esque drama and Hollywood star vehicle) she’s the young daughter of a British millionaire, who arrives in France on a Pan Am flight for reasons never made clear (like most of the characters in the film she remains nameless and is given no back story whatsoever. Indeed, she only gets a few lines of dialogue in the whole film) only to be kidnapped at the airport by Marlon Brando posing as her father’s chauffeur, and driven off to an isolated beachfront cottage on the edge of the French countryside. The kidnap gang consists of Bud’ (Brando), his airhostess girlfriend Vi (Rita Moreno) and her middle-aged brother Wally (Jess Hahn), plus a sleazy con the latter has ill-advisedly employed called Leer (Richard Boone), who turns out to have some rather sadistic tendencies and a duplicitous streak.
The gang hole up at the cramped but spartanly furnished cottage hideout by the sea with their timid prisoner (Franklin here looking like the young Winona Ryder with a late-sixties Tara King hairdo) where the constant sound of crashing waves makes for a grindingly relentless aural backdrop, and set about arranging a ransom exchange with the girl’s father. ‘We’re professional criminals,’ Leer assures the frightened young heiress, but predictably enough, the gang’s meticulously laid plans soon start to unravel and become increasingly complicated by personal entanglements and the participants’ various neuroses: Leer is a sadistic misogynist who delights in torturing their helpless prisoner; Vi a heroin addict who soon mucks up the plan when she fails to turn up to deliver Bud and Wally to the cottage, because she’s strung out in the bath on Junk; the paranoid and drug-addled Vi later starts to think Bud is cheating on her with the imprisoned girl; and Leer is secretly arranging to double-cross the others and make off with all the cash. Plus a horny Gendarme (Gérard Buhr), who’s got the hots for Vi, keeps turning up at inopportune moments and threatening the careful timing of the gang’s somewhat convoluted plan -- which involves setting off an explosion as a diversion while they make the exchange with Franklin’s father in a seedy village café …its owner threatening to close early through lack of business, creating yet another unforeseen problem for the beleaguered criminals!
A bizarrely avant-garde title sequence comes off as all needlessly psychedelic (as does a weird love scene later between Brando and Moreno) and is the harbinger of a completely left-field supernatural twist in the very final moments of the film that doesn’t fit with anything that’s gone before, although it is the only thing that makes sense of the film’s title. The mixture of French locations establishes an unusual tone that leaves the film feeling a bit like Polanski’s “Cul-de-sac” early on, thanks to the isolated beach setting (an early sequence where the odd bunch have to tramp across the sands to get to the cottage is almost as surreal), with foreshadowings of his later thriller “Frantic” in the second half when the oddball gang’s plan finally kicks into action and Franklin’s father makes the trek across Paris to the isolated spot where he is to hand over the ransom money.
In the naturalistic surroundings of this relatively low-key, slightly artsy thriller, Brando seems entirely miscast. Dressed all in black with skin-tight T-shirt, a blonde James Dean slick of hair, and alluringly tanned and muscle-bound -- the actor looks like a gay poster boy and frequently indulges himself with flourishes of his broad, over-the-top acting style where ever he can. In the actor’s trademark slurred mumble, ‘Bud’ disagrees with the way the plan is apparently unravelling -- with Vi’s drug habit making her unreliable and Leer’s unstable, sadistic streak of violence threatening to end in Franklin’s murder if things carry on the way they’ve been going. This gives the Hollywood star the opportunity to give it all he’s got: his anguished and conflicted soul searching resulting in much sweeping of cutlery off of table tops, constipated mewling, and hands clenched to the skull in frustration. One begins to wonder how such an exemplarily principled character as Bud appears to be would have ever become involved in such a nefarious scheme in the first place. It all seem so hilariously inappropriate and completely out of joint with the understated tone of quiet Hitchcockian suspense that seems to have been the director’s original aim -- but who’s going to argue with Marlon Brando when he decides it’s time to do some full-on acting?
Actually, the real star of the piece is veteran Richard Boone, who comes over all slyly reasonable and reassuring when ‘consoling’ the gang’s pretty, porcelain-delicate prisoner at the start of her ordeal, before revealing himself to be a grinning, craggy-faced, grade-A nut-job, who goes from merely stamping on Franklin’s toes for no apparent reason to enjoying the opportunity of leering up her skirt while he stops her from escaping after grabbing and tripping her on the stairs. (We realise he’s a total head case when he’s shown sleeping on a couple of uncomfortable sofa cushions half-way up the cottage’s spiral staircase!) Boone’s theatrical sadism and moustache-twirling villainy tips the film into the ‘R’ rated category near the end, and the unnervingly young-looking Pamela Franklin ends up tied-up, topless and tortured with Boone tipping his homburg as he exits, and thanking her for an enjoyable evening!
With an often slow-set pace, pretensions of artistic grandeur and a set of inconsistent acting styles, “The Night of the Following Day” is no re-discovered classic. However it does built up a significant head of steam in the second half that result in some nicely played scenes of suspense as the gang’s plan comes to the boil, and there is a good face-off at dawn at the end between Boone and Brando; in some ways, the directorial and acting missteps make it more noteworthy a thriller than many others from the period, adding a certain culty appeal to proceedings that might have played out in a rather formulaic fashion otherwise. Stanley Myers (“Frightmare”) provides a quirkily sixties-style score as well.
The UK disc from Odeon Entertainment provides a decent transfer with clear and loud mono audio, but just a theatrical trailer as an extra.