Stuck in the middle of two…
Betty a young divorcee starts a relationship with her much older boss leading to strong reactions from friends and family. Then her ex-husband returns.
Middle of the Night 1959 HD trailer, humbi53
Middle of the Night (1959) was a black and white film that I really couldn’t resist for two reasons. Firstly one of my all-time favourite actresses, Lee Grant stars in this only her fourth feature film. And secondly, the screenplay was adapted by Oscar-winning Paddy Chayefsky, the screenwriter who wrote the satirical film screenplay for Network (1976). Middle of the Night was adapted from his Broadway play of the same name.
In those romantic leads, this film stars Fredric March, as a silver-streaked older widower and as his colleague then-fiancee, Kim Novak. Novak was the Hitchcock blonde from Vertigo who later starred in one of my favourite Agatha Christie whodunnits in The Mirror Crack’d (1980).
In a twist of fate, this film was originally a Philco Television Playhouse TV Episode (1954) with two Hitchcock stars, E G Marshall – who starred in a past Hitchock role in Suspicion (1957), Four O’Clock S1 Ep1 – and Eva Marie Saint who had a role in Hitchock’s film North by Northwest (1959). In 1956, Middle of the Night opened on Broadway with Edward G. Robinson and Gena Rowlands in those leading roles.
The handsome boss of a garments factory, widowed 56 years old, Jerry (Fredric March) is feeling his age. His friends are sick or retiring. However, his similarly aged married colleague Walter (Albert Dekker) brags about getting a new “tootsie” every night and puts it all down to vitamins.
As Jerry and his colleagues talk about the perils of getting old, Jerry’s young pretty blonde 24 year old receptionist, Betty (Kim Novak) pops in with a message for him. Walter immediately tries to chat her up and fails miserably. This is after he says she’s fair game as she’s just recently divorced. Betty however still feeling a bit fragile and wobbly about this. She goes home early as she doesn’t feel too good, and takes some paperwork with her to finish off at home.
Jerry lives with his older, spinster sister Evelyn (Edith Meiser). Evelyn acts more like his mother as she fusses about him and interferes with his life constantly. As he goes home to change his shirt, she is entertaining a bunch of her friends – all women about his age – and his 25-year-old daughter Lillian (Joan Copeland) is also there. One of the women appears to take a fancy to him. She prattles non-stop to him for about five minutes without a break, heavily hinting they should hook up.
Later he tells his sister off for trying to matchmake him, and he arranges to meet his daughter later for dinner. He is told it’s about time he dated again, as it’s two years since his wife passed away. Lillian then openly asks her father about his sex life. He’s single and now feels it, and tries and fails to get a date with an ex-girlfriend, but she’s moved on.
Before dinner, he pops in to get the paperwork from Betty. Betty says she will be back to work, and then she tearfully talks in detail about her failed marriage. She is now back living with her mother and younger sister and her father left her mother when she was a wee girl. He offers his “paternal view” and she tells him she won’t go back to her husband. Soon she is laughing and telling him about her younger days, both good and bad times.
At work, a nervous Jerry asks Betty out on a date for dinner and dancing and Betty accepts. Meanwhile, his daughter, Lillian and her husband, Jack (Martin Balsam) appear to be talking over each other about things. She’s talking about her father who is dating again, he’s hoping to arrange a holiday from work without their baby. He feels a “tenseness” between them, and she feels her aunt Evelyn gets resentful about all the love interests in her father’s life.
It seems now that some time has passed, as at dinner, Betty tells Jerry she wants to stop dating. She feels their relationship is impossible as he is also her boss, and that she is worried if they continue things someone will get hurt. He feels she is being sensible because of their age difference, but he loves her. She tells him she doesn’t yet know what love means. He kisses her and she responds passionately and they continue seeing each other.
Later they go away for a romantic weekend, and on their way, she begins to get cold feet again. She feels like a “tramp” because of their age difference and then has a major panic about their relationship, but he snaps her out of it. They laugh in the snow, kiss and spend New Year’s Eve with some other married couples, where it’s assumed they are married. He gets drunk and she helps him to bed.
On the journey home, they talk about marriage. He’s keen to get married and talks about the joy she has brought into his life. But she is still unsure but knows that she cares for him and wants to make him happy. She considers things and then agrees to marry him. Now to tell their families, friends and colleagues about their engagement…
I read that actress, Kim Novak felt this was her best performance and was her favourite film in her filmography. I was moved by both her and March’s convincing acting performances and they were credible in this older man-younger woman romance. I don’t feel it was a romance purely for selfish reasons, as this young woman was not looking to improve her situation. Nor was she looking for a father figure.
Both characters appeared in love and had concerns about the age difference. This age difference often created wobbly moments for them. However, as a couple, I did feel they shared a genuine love for each other. In his writing, Chayefsky explored the age dynamic accurately and credibly.
This script was reflected in the strong acting performances from Fredric and Novak, both as a couple and as individuals. Bosley Crowther – of the New York Times HERE – said of March’s performance that;
Mr. March is an excellent actor when it comes to showing joy and distress…
I believe that these performances were down to this worthy script where those leading characters were intelligently written. This meant that we had deep insights into their happiness, fears and insecurities within this relationship. These often reflected those of any couple, irrespective of an age difference. IMDb lists others considered for the role of Jerry as Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, and James Cagney for the lead. Jean Simmons was considered for Betty.
March showed his character as a man who was happy about this young woman as his girlfriend. But later he was seen to be prone to jealousy, with fears about a young man taking her from him as he fell obsessively in love with her.
Betty seemed at times impulsive and fearful of what would happen in their future if they broke up. Yet she seen genuinely happy after their engagement party at work. She was conflicted about her feelings for Jerry but thought he was a “decent” man. Her feelings were tested after – to her mother’s joy – her ex-husband George visits and makes it plain that he wants to reconcile.
Both Betty and Jerry seemed lonely characters, and this was due to their initial circumstances. He was a widower and she felt that she couldn’t be with her husband at any level, and this led to their divorce. This loneliness was also felt after they started their relationship after they told those close to them about their impending wedding.
It was interesting to see those friends, colleagues and family reactions to their wedding plans. These reminded me of other age-gap movies when those future plans are revealed for example Harold and Maude (1971). This film told about a romantic relationship between a 20-year-old younger man with a 79-year-old older woman. At the time of release, both this film and Middle of the Night were deemed controversial. However Middle of the Night showed both positive and negative responses to their future wedding.
Thoughts about Betty and Jerry’s wedding were divided in opinion. The women in their lives mainly took a negative view and the men were more positive about their future. Whereas their colleagues seemed happy for them, Jerry’s sister immediately became resentful and angry about it. However, this behaviour had been predicted as a fault she had with any woman dating her wee brother. Evelyn was also threatened about her role as his caregiver – a role she’d taken up after his wife died – and that Betty would break his heart.
Lilian, Jerry’s daughter – who had liked Betty when they were just dating – was immediately preoccupied with the psychodynamic reasons behind this attraction citing father figures and other age-related misconceptions. Interestingly, the possible psychodynamics behind this relationship were explored by this character were then put down to mumbo jumbo by her husband, Jack. Jack in contrast was genuinely superhappy for his father-in-law as were Walter and his older male colleagues.
In Betty’s family, her mother was concerned about her daughter marrying a “Spencer Tracy” and could marry her daughter “over her dead body”. However, in a girly heart-to-heart, Betty’s friend Marilyn (Lee Grant) tells her friend how she feels about their plans. As she talks to her friend, you feel, this is out of concern as a friend.
Marilyn is the only one who is honest, forthright and truthful. She unlike the others does not jump to misconceptions about their relationship. She knows her friend well and worries that she may have been swept away by this man. She fears that Betty has not thought of the possible implications for her, due to his increased age. She reinforces that in ten years Jerry will be 66.
Marilyn asks her to consider her thoughts about having children with him and if she still loves her ex-husband. She adds that her ex-husband, George is back in town and she knows that he would gladly take Betty back.
In her natural performance, Lee Grant as her friend indirectly hints at her own unhappy marriage. Her marriage appears to be one without love and she’s lonely. You feel that because of her sadness she doesn’t want to see her friend in a similar unhappy marriage. You feel she would talk about her own marriage, regardless of her friend’s fiance’s age. That she is warning her friend of the loneliness in marriage and here an age difference is not relevant. However, you feel she is there supporting her friend, for a friend in need, is a friend indeed.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂 🙂🙂 🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Odd or Even Blogathon 2022
This was added to my blogathon with Taking Up Room, The Odd or Even Blogathon Other reviews with this cast include Kim Novak in The Mirror Crack’d. Lee Grant in Buona Sera Mrs Campbell, Divorce American Style, Voyage of the Damned, Airport 77 and Omen II. Fredric March in Nothing Sacred. Martin Balsam starred in Night of Terror, Glitter, Hotel, Murder She Wrote, St. Elmo’s Fire, Murder on the Orient Express and The Twilight Zone in The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine S1 Ep4.