BEN, giving great weight to each word, and with a certain vicious audacity: William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich! He goes off into darkness around the right corner of the house.
WILLY: …was rich! That’s just the spirit I want to imbue [my sons] with! To walk into a jungle! I was right! I was right! I was right!
–from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
Now there’s a telling phrase: “a certain vicious audacity….” It makes one wonder exactly what Ben did in that jungle to make himself rich. It also reminds me of the attitude I’m seeing from a lot of public officials these days. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I’m afraid the Eighties might be back. You know, the infamous “Me” decade? That rampage of untrammeled corporate lust and unholy fiduciary narcissism that Tom Wolfe blew into oblivion with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The un-golden era that celebrated the law of the jungle and trashed the Golden Rule. The era that either proved that not enough high school students were still reading Lord of the Flies and A Separate Peace, or that a whole generation had missed the point.
What else but a wholesale return of the Eighties could account for the current state of provincial and federal politics? Outrage is beginning to seem an inadequate response. And therein lies the reason for this month’s movie choice: a new hero for our times. We need a few more George Duplers in Cabinet these days. George who? George Dupler (Gene Hackman) is the middle-aged executive in Jean-Claude Tramont’s 1981 comedy All Night Long who finally says enough is enough. At first, I thought I’d picked this month’s movie as a kind of guilty pleasure. Gene Hackman, Dennis Quaid, and Barbra Streisand in a dark comedy? Who would have thought? And who would have seen it? I still intend to sing the actors’ praises, but I’ve come to realize that what satisfied me most about this picture was its wry humor and its genuine outrage: the sweet audacity to affirm that efficiency and sanctimoniousness are no substitutes for heart and soul.
The opening five minutes set the entire film’s tone. The camera pans across the mirrored glass façade of the corporate headquarters of Ultra-Save. In faceless unctuous voice-over, the company president runs through his spiel: “You’re an old company man, George. This decision is for everyone’s good. For the company and for you. In this company we listen, because we’re in the people business. Feel free to express yourself….” There’s a second pause, and a chair explodes through the glass wall. This is followed by our first sight of George Dupler, lying sedated on an office desk.
Not a likely introduction for a hero, but that’s what George ultimately proves to be. He’s not the kind who takes on the System and single-handedly brings it to its knees. All Night Long isn’t Gladiator or All the President’s Men or even Erin Brockovich. No George Dupler action figures have ever been, or will ever be, produced. Dupler’s heroism comes in walking away from a soulless, joyless life. Making such a decision, from so deep within the Establishment, when genuine power is within one’s hands and a twenty-year pension is on the line, takes a rare courage. Most, including George’s wife and his former executive co-workers, call it lunacy.
After the chair-through-the-window-and-punch-the-boss-in-the-nose incident (“a profound adaptational response to emotional distress,” declares the company psychiatrist) George Dupler is demoted to night manager of a huge 24-hour L.A. drugstore. Prolonged humiliation is ultimately more satisfying from a corporate point of view than a simple firing. But George isn’t crushed. He’s smart and experienced enough to manage half a dozen such operations. Instead of stress and humiliation, the company’s really given him a chance to reflect on his life. His recent experiences give him an easy bond with the drugstore’s eccentric night crew of misfits and transients.
The drugstore is also a good set for some slapstick humor—an attempted robbery by an Amazon, an Apocalypse Nowtake-off with a battery-powered toy helicopter—but most of the humor in All Night Long is sly and pointed. The drugstore’s day manager, trying to impress Dupler with his cool demeanor, points out a typical “dirtbag” client in the TV monitor and says, “Just don’t show fear.” The dirtbag turns out to be George’s 18-year-old son, Freddy (a very young Dennis Quaid), dropping in to say hi to dad. When the same manager tells George, “Watch me! In six months I’m moving up to headquarters,” George’s response is, “That’s where I was.” Two guys going into a bar to pick a fight backtrack because they’ve left the lights on in the car. The entire sexual state (very sorry) of the marriage between George and his wife Helen (Diane Ladd) is encapsulated in an amazing 10-second scene of broken eye contact and coded non-verbal signals. And when a neighbor tells George, “Your son’s an excellent painter, you should encourage him,” one’s sudden fantasies of hidden artistic talents in the barely sentient Freddy are immediately demolished by, “He did our bedroom walls Friday night. Latex enamel, quick, in and out like there’s no tomorrow.”
It turns out that the latter comment also describes Freddy’s current relationship with the neighbor’s wife, Cheryl. The role of Cheryl Gibbons suits Barbra Streisand to a tee. Ironically, it’s the only role she’s ever played that wasn’t written expressly for her. She was brought in only when the original actress backed out of the picture. Cheryl is a convincing blend of intelligence and insecurity. She’s a very smart woman who has an instinctive sense of her own worth and of how to satisfy the basic needs that will keep her sane. But she also feels duty-bound to play out the trophy-wife role life has dealt her. Her husband’s a controlling creep (“I have all I can do to keep up with her—her mind, her ideas—you gotta keep’em in line”), and she’ll cheat on him for pleasure and a taste of revenge (she has the chutzpah to let Freddy charge her husband for the paint job), but she still feels she owes him a surface loyalty for a picture-perfect suburban life. At the moment in her life when she meets George, Cheryl is a woman on the cusp of abasement or liberation.
Liberation’s not an easy path. She likes to have her cake and eat it too. Freddy’s a pretty big cake. So is her duplicitous Martha Stewart reign as a suburban queen. A blond widow instead of a black one. Take this exchange:
George: Helen tries very hard to organize our lives.
Cheryl: Like planning to have one kid, you mean?
George: Nobody plans to have someone like Freddy.
Cheryl: I did.
Trying to get her to commit to a new life, George quotes her own words back to her about too many people leading double lives. Cheryl’s reply is a shocked: “I only said it—I didn’t mean it!”
Deep down, of course, she does mean it. She helps George find a new center in life; he helps her finally realize that there’s a possibility for a whole life instead of half a one. Always, there’s underplayed irony. George and Cheryl’s first tentative kiss takes place against a Kentucky Fried Chicken neon backdrop. Unlike recent, popular pictures like American Beauty, All Night Long is genuinely about adult rebellion. Usually what we get is mid-life-crisis, adolescent acting-out masquerading as rebellion. Barbra Streisand dumping Dennis Quaid for Gene Hackman isn’t exactly the kind of scenario aimed at today’s demographics.
It is, however, deeply satisfying.
Looking Back & Second Thoughts
“There’s only one goddamned pillow here! What kind of person has only one pillow!?”
For the life of me, I can’t remember why I originally chose to review All Night Long. It might have been because I liked Gene Hackman as an actor. It might have been because the cover of the VHS tape gave Barbra Streisand a Marilyn Monroe vibe. It might have been a recommendation from a friend. Somewhat surprisingly, the film still holds up for me today—although you’d never know that from the anemic 5.5 Imdb rating and the “disappointing” verdicts of Siskel & Ebert. The film’s social satire has lost none of its bite, but steers clear of the corrosive cynicism that strangles laughter. The chemistry between the lead actors is right on target. Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand have each won two Oscars; Diane Ladd has been nominated three times. That kind of talent pays off, even in a modest film such as All Night Long. Roger Ebert though that Streisand’s talent was wasted here. I disagree.
Barbra Streisand manages to imbue the role of Cheryl Gibbons, the archetypal “dumb blonde” trophy wife, with intelligence, dignity, sass, moxie, and joie de vivre. This isn’t a star turn, just fine acting. Where Marilyn Monroe’s characters were always vulnerable, Streisand gives Cheryl Gibbons an inner resilience that makes her transition from window-dressing to independence entirely convincing.
The Imdb biography describes Streisand as “one of the most successful personalities in show business. She is the only person ever to receive all of the following: Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, Cable Ace, National Endowment for the Arts, and Peabody awards, as well as the Kennedy Center Honor, American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement honor and the Film Society of Lincoln Center Chaplin Award.” Quite a resume. It shames me to admit that I’ve seen very little of her work on screen. The only exceptions are this film and A Star is Born (1976). I have some catching up to do. One of the fringe benefits of working on this online version of Seldom Scene is taking advantage of chances to make up for oversights, lost opportunities, and unexplored pathways in cinema history.
As George Dupler, Gene Hackman presents a darkly entertaining portrait of a middle-class “salaryman” whose life is upended through corporate downsizing. Unlike those sad cases one hears of who continue to pretend to go to work for weeks or months after losing their jobs, Dupler walks away from his futureless sinecure, his pension, his Stepford Wives suburban home, and his Stepford Wives spouse to pursue a dream in a 4000 square foot abandoned warehouse loft, with a woman who has her own dream to pursue. No guarantees that either the dreams or the relationship will last, but who doesn’t like the idea of a second chance? Look around, and you’ll likely see friends and neighbors who have remade their lives with new partners and/or new livelihoods.
The film’s perfect opening shot, one of my all-time favorites, introduced by the cliched bromide “Feel free to express yourself,” shows the audience that what follows isn’t going to be Death of a Salesman. Later in the film, all of George’s frustrations with his dead-end life are captured in two back-to-back monologues, delivered as he’s throwing clothes into a suitcase: “I assume full responsibility for everything!!—Cheryl Gibbons, unemployment, inflation, high interest rates, low productivity, Moscow, Peking, Korea, Vietnam, Iran. You name it, I’ll be sorry for it”….”I don’t know [where I’m going]. I don’t understand anything. I don’t understand my son. I don’t understand my wife. I don’t understand myself. I don’t know if there’s not enough gas, or too much sun. Not enough atomic energy or too much nuclear waste. I don’t know if there’s not enough love, who’s hiding what from whom, what’s right and what’s wrong…..” What he does understand is that there has to be more to living than a loveless marriage and toadying up to pinheads in suits.
A young Dennis Quaid, in the role of George’s not-the-sharpest-tool-in-the-shed son, Freddie (and one of Cheryl’s disposable extramarital bedmates), provides some excellent comic relief. Kevin Dobson plays Cheryl’s husband Bobby as a character out of a bad Seventies porno film, with suit and mustache to match. He captures the casual viciousness that’s one of the markers of an abusive relationship.
I’d like to recommend All Night Long as part of a triple feature that also has The Hospital (1971) and They Might Be Giants (1971) on the same bill. All three films have similar protagonists who suddenly discover, with bewilderment and bemusement, and a touch of black humor and – fantasy, that the status quo sucks.
Born In Brussels, Belgium, Jean-Claude Tramont directed only four feature films, two of which were for television. Tramont died in 1996, at age 66.
Director of Photography Philip H. Lathrop’s career also spanned 30 years. He has 89 credits as a cinematographer on Imdb. Two Oscar nominations. Lathrop died in 1995, age 82.
Writer W.D. Richter has 15 screenwriting credits on Imdb, over some 30 years. He was nominated for an Oscar for Brubaker (1980), and for a Hugo for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).
Available on YouTube? No, but available at bing.com at