Originally published September 6, 2013
I enjoy finding gems within the Warner Archive (so far they have an even ratio of great work to clunkers). The gem for the month is All in a Night’s Work, a 1960s romantic comedy with an all-star cast and a cheeky personality. A witty script sells this comedy of errors, miscommunications and non-sequiturs. Dean Martin hasn’t wowed me, and he is the weakest link in the chain, but the movie is funny enough (refusing to fall into dated 1960s jokes) to even turn him into a charming personality.
Tony Ryder (Dean Martin) is a Lothario tasked with running a successful magazine when his uncle, Colonel Ryder, dies. However, a mysterious woman seen fleeing Colonel Ryder’s room the night he died is feared to be an extortionist . As Tony tries to find the mystery woman, she’s right under his nose. Katie Robbines (Shirley MacLaine) is a meek researcher who, through a crazy series of events, ends up with a mink coat she can’t afford, and two men vying for her affections.
A 1960s romance film had me leery because it could be the apotheosis of antiquated notions of women combined with charming moments for the menfolk. All in a Night’s Work has brief glimmers of those moments, but never enough to drown the picture in pandering female sentiment. The script by Edmund Beloin and Maurice Richlin is remarkably nuanced, with witty turn of phrase that I wasn’t expecting to make a frothy and sly experience. There’s a slight self-awareness (or at least an implied one) that plays to the audience’s knowledge of the actors strengths. For example, I couldn’t believe that Dean Martin was a publishing magnate, and neither do the characters! In a boardroom sequence that sets up the plot, the various men all agree, “You may not be much, but you’re all we’ve got.” They can’t stand Tony and have the same lack of faith in him that the audience does. The doubt extends to his literacy in a hilarious line, “I didn’t even know he could spell ‘amortization.'”
Martin plays to his strengths and the character of Tony Ryder is certainly written around him. He’s a lounge lizard by night and full-time playboy whose only sleuthing ability comes from hunting down women; so the plot to track down who Katie is, and in turn seduce her so she can’t sue the company, is perfect for Martin’s persona. Martin is the one to exhibit the misogynistic tendencies defining the 1960s male; he believes he’s so smooth that Katie would definitely go to bed with him. It’s the reason his pairing with MacLaine works so well; you expect a tough woman to play opposite him, but MacLaine walks the line between tough, modern, woman, and Girl Scout.
MacLaine walks away with this movie, creating a 1960s character that kept reminding me of Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl, although the two women are very different. MacLaine’s Katie isn’t as domineering and militant as Wood’s character. Katie has a moral center that’s continually in danger of corruption. The movie’s narrative has Katie carefully doling out the real story on how she ended up in Colonel Ryder’s room, and from there the movie becomes a series of assumptions and misinterpretations. It’s an intriguing study of a woman’s reputation and how it’s constantly at risk because of innuendo. By the end, you end up sympathizing with Katie and realizing how arrogant and undeserving the men in her life are; yes, even Cliff Robertson is undeserving of Shirley MacLaine. Robertson plays another second banana character as he did in Picnic; his character here is a wavering veterinarian worried about whether his parents will take to Katie or not. Robertson is still gorgeous in this role, and certainly adorable while working with animals. Compared to past roles in Picnic and Gidget, he’s goofier and adept at the quick phrasing and physical comedy.
I was incredibly impressed with All in a Night’s Work. Outside of one greedy female, the movie never seeks to turn events into a battle of the sexes. Katie is concerned about her reputation, and the theme of female propriety insinuates itself subtly into the plot. The script is skillful, and consistently funny. The performances by MacLaine, Robertson, and Martin are all good. It’s worth snagging via Warner Archive, or watching when it’s made available on Warner Instant.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.