The Midnight Man's Métier

The Midnight Man's Métier

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Sep 4th 2018

When Tony®, Writers Guild of America and Academy Award® winner Sidney Sheldon, following decades of successful scribing for movies, theater and television, elected in 1969 to turn to the solitary practice of novel writing, he wanted to explore if his yen to craft globetrotting stories of romance, glamour, suspense and sexual desire would prove fulfilling. In later-in-life interviews, he often spoke of the joys of careful plotting, character development, extensive travel for research, and feeling unencumbered by the absence of collaboration required by the processes of live and film production. His first book The Naked Face (1970) got some attention as an absorbing read. But his next book three years later, the #1 bestseller The Other Side of Midnight, detailing a spirited young Frenchwoman’s transformation, due to her harsh World War II-era treatment by a caddish military man, from optimistic, open-hearted romantic into an icy, calculating figure of steely beauty and seductive manipulation, proved catnip to readers the world over and equally transformed him into a publishing powerhouse for the subsequent 40 years. Because he’d evolved out of that time-tested entertainment tradition and because the title was exceedingly catchy, it was material ripe for a swoony, sizzling, eye-candy R-rated movie in which its dubious morality would be perfumed by the emerging themes of female empowerment. The makers of The Other Side of Midnight (1977)  – producer (and former Paramount studio chief) Frank Yablans, director Charles Jarrott (Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)) and screenwriters Herman Raucher (Summer of ’42 (1971)) and Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity (1953), Hawaii (1966, a Twilight Time title)) – sought to ensure that it would be as picturesque, melodramatic and sensually alive as the imagery on the printed page.

To play the pivotal central role of Noelle Page, they enlisted the striking Marie-France Pisier, an alumna of arthouse fare like Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and Cousin Cousine (1975). Surrounding her were engaging actors on the rise. John Beck (memorable to date as sturdy support in Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973), Rollerball (1975, a Twilight Time title) and 1977’s Audrey Rose) would play the love-her-and-leave-her flyboy who triggers Noelle’s odyssey of revenge. Playing the pilot’s wronged and neglected careerwoman wife, Susan Sarandon, already gaining notice via her preceding years’ work in The Front Page (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (both 1975), was just on the cusp of a career upswing that would click in the following year with Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby. Raf Vallone (as a powerful Greek tycoon whose influence empowers and eventually undoes Nicole), Clu Gulager, Christian Marquand, Michael Lerner, Sorrell Booke, Charles Cioffi and Louis Zorich portrayed variously helpful and hurtful authority figures in Nicole’s orbit. Nimbly mixing together location lensing in Paris, Greece and Washington DC) with luxuriant studio sets appointed by three-time Academy Award®-winning production designer John DeCuir) shot by The Towering Inferno (1974) Oscar® winner Fred J. Koenekamp, glamour and exacting period precision reigned supreme. Two more Oscar®-laureled masters also helped make this sprawling 166-minute chronicle an attractive bauble: Michel Legrand contributed a magnificent score and the supremely stylish costumes by stage-and-screen icon Irene Sharaff resulted in the film’s sole Oscar® nomination. 

Alas, the movie’s modest box-office success did not compare to that of the original book, but Sheldon was happy with how the film turned out; indeed, he just wanted to be a good storyteller, not cure the world's ills. But he did include the following in his 2005 memoir The Other Side of Me: “I received a letter from a woman who had had a massive heart attack and was in the hospital, and would not let her parents and boyfriend come in and see her. She wrote me that she just wanted to die. She was 21 years old. Someone left a copy of The Other Side of Midnight on her bedside. She started to skim through it. Intrigued, she went back to the beginning and read the book. When she was through, she had been so caught up in the characters and their problems that she forgot about her own, and was ready to face life again.” The “guilty pleasure” that is The Other Side of Midnight, equipped with an Audio Commentary featuring Sheldon, Jarrott, Yablans and film historian Laurent Bouzereau, plus an Isolated Music Track of the evocative Legrand score, unfurls its soigné and salacious intrigues on TT hi-def Blu-ray September 18. Preorders open tomorrow, Wednesday September 5.