Synopsis by Clarke Fountain
Silent films that were produced at the end of the silent era tend to be overlooked when praise for outstanding filmmaking is handed out. This premiere production by Charles Vanel is no exception. It was shot in 1929, when "talkies" were already the mainstay of all new productions. Even when it was made, this remarkable film was overlooked, and the director (Vanel) had to make his mark as an actor, instead. He had the longest film career of any French actor: his first film appearance was in 1912, his last in 1988, and he was in over 200 films. His remarkable career was honored in 1970 by the Cannes Film Festival with a lifetime achievement award. Dans la nuit, revived in 1989, (the year Vanel died) was belatedly recognized as a classic of silent filmmaking. The story concerns a newlywed quarry worker, and the strategems he devises to avoid repulsing his wife after an accident which results in his having a horribly mutilated face. Among other things, he wears a veil to hide his deformity. Eventually, his beloved wife takes a new lover (also a quarry worker) and in order to avoid detection he sometimes wears a veil, simply to hide his face. The worker discovers the deception, and a primal struggle between the two men begins. Even now, the outcome of that struggle has the power to surprise. The studio Vanel worked for insisted that he tack on a happy-ending sequence ("it was just a dream"), and reviewers suggest that viewers leave the theatre or stop the video to avoid having that saccharine contrivance spoil the dark moodiness of the original film.