Like most Anglo-European co-productions, the 1968 caper film They Came to Rob Las Vegas deserves plaudits for not using any subtlety in its title. You know instantly what it's about as the protagonists, well, they come to rob Las Vegas. The ring leader is Tony Ferris (Gary Lockwood), a casino craps dealer who uses his inside observations to organize an outrageous plot. The casino's daily monetary takes are hauled off to banks courtesy of seemingly impregnable armored cars owned by Skorsky (Lee J. Cobb), an obnoxious tycoon with mob connections who prides himself on the fact that his armored cars are unique in their design. Each one is a virtually Sherman tank with devices that automatically lock if any attempt to open the doors is detected. Inside the car are heavily armed guards who can live for an extended period of time (there's even a bathroom inside!). Additionally, the drivers can activate armor mechanism and machine guns from within the cab. Still, petty crook Ferris believes he has the perfect plan to knock off one of these trucks and capture the millions inside. He organizes a gang of crooks, each of whom has their own specialized talent, to literally kidnap the truck and secrete it in an underground hideaway in the desert. It goes without saying that there are some flies in the ointment and things don't go as smoothly as planned.
Truffaut had an all too short but certainly brilliant career as a filmmaker. He
began in the world of film criticism in France, but in the late 1950s he
decided to make movies himself. Truffaut quickly shot to the forefront of the
French New Wave in the late 1950s and early 60s, alongside the likes of
Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, and others. By the time the 70s
rolled around, Truffaut was a national treasure in France and a mainstay in art
house cinemas in the U.S. and Britain.
1973 masterpiece, Day for Night (in France La Nuit Américaine, or “American
Night”), won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of that year, the only
time Truffaut picked up an Academy Award. Due to odd eligibility rules, the
picture could be nominated for other categories the following year. For 1974, Truffaut
was nominated for Best Director, the script by Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman, and
Jean-Louis Richard was up for Best Original Screenplay, and Valentina Cortese
was nominated for Supporting Actress. Thus, Day for Night is perhaps one of the
auteur’s best known works outside of France.
title refers to a technique used in Hollywood pictures to create night scenes
shot during the day by using a special filter. In France “day for night” was
also known as “American night,” because it was an inexpensive and less
complicated method to achieve the effect.
title is entirely appropriate because the movie is about making a movie.
Truffaut plays a director named Ferrand (the filmmaker often acted in his own
pictures; most non-French audiences will remember his major role in Spielberg’s
Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The film he is making is a trite melodrama
about an older man falling in love with his soon-to-be daughter-in-law—which is
a plot that might very well have been in a real Truffaut movie. In fact,
several of the talking heads in the disc’s supplements suggest that Truffaut
was slyly making fun of his own 1964 melodrama, The Soft Skin (reviewed here),
which at the time of its release was a financial and critical disappointment
for the filmmaker.
Bisset and Truffaut
“plot,” as it were, of Day for Night is
nothing more than a freeform documentation of the movie’s shoot, particularly
focusing on the actors and crew and the on-screen and off-screen relationships
they have while on location—who’s falling in love, who’s breaking up, who’s
sleeping with or cheating on whom, and so on. In fact, mimicking the love
triangle that’s in the film-within-the-film, two of the lead actors, Julie
(Jacqueline Bisset) and Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud) have an affair, jeopardizing the actress’
marriage, especially when Alphonse becomes enraged with jealousy when Julie
decides to reconcile with her husband when the man visits the set. There are
other dalliances among crew members... at one point a wife visiting her
henpecked production manager husband shouts at the entire production staff, “What
is this movie business? Where everyone sleeps with everyone! Everyone lies! Do
you think it's normal? Your movie world...I think it stinks. I despise it!”
it’s a romantic comedy, and there are quite a few laughs and whimsical moments.
Truffaut was often guilty of injecting sentimentality into his films, and it’s
here in abundance. This is not a bad thing, for the director did this thing
well. Day for Night is indeed very light, its buoyancy aided by Georges
Delerue’s sparkling score. It’s a quintessential Truffaut picture in that it
hits his various auteur thematic signatures—love affairs, infidelity,
reconciliation, pathos, and even cinema history. In fact, the picture is in
itself an homage to the art of making motion pictures. A key recurring sequence
is when Ferrand has fitful dreams at night, picturing himself as a young boy
desperate to steal lobby cards and press photos from the local cinema. As the
American movie posters claimed in the tag line, “it’s a movie for people who
cast is sensational. Besides Truffaut, Bisset, and Leaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont
plays the older screen idol who is nearing retirement, Valentina Cortese is an
Italian screen idol whose major earlier work was “with Fellini” (and this is
true for Cortese herself!). Other Truffaut “regulars” such as Dani, Alexandra Stewart, and Nathalie Baye, make
picture was shot at the legendary Victorine Studios in Nice, France (now called
Riviera Studios), the site where many noted films were made, such as To Catch a
Thief, Children of Paradise, Lola Montes, Mon Oncle, And God Created Woman, and
more. These photos depict what the grounds looked like in 2000, when I visited
the location while researching my James Bond novel, Never Dream of Dying (the
studios were used as a model for a setting in the book). While I walked around
the grounds, I mostly thought of Day for Night, for Truffaut’s movie had stayed
with me for decades since I first saw it on its initial release.
Photos taken by Raymond Benson at the filming location in 2000.(Photos copyright Raymond Benson. All rights reserved.)
Criterion Collection presents a gorgeous new restored 2K digital transfer,
supervised by director of photography Pierre-William Glenn, with an
uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Most of the supplements that appeared on the
Warner Brothers DVD of 2001 have been ported over, such as vintage “making of”
documentaries; interviews with Truffaut, Bisset, and several other cast and
crew members; a documentary on the film featuring film scholar Annette Insdorf;
and vintage news clips such as Truffaut being interviewed at Cannes. New
supplements include a fascinating video essay by the extraordinary filmmaker ::
kogonada; new interviews with DOP Glenn and assistant editor Martine Barraqué;
and a new engrossing interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew about the rift
that occurred between Truffaut and Godard after the release of the film. An
essay by critic David Cairns adorns the booklet.
for Night is easily one of François Truffaut’s best films. If you haven’t seen
it, you owe it to the movie lover inside you to pick up this one.