When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Women in the Night (1948)

At the Internet Archive I downloaded a 1948 public domain feature called WOMEN IN THE NIGHT, an independent quickie filmed at a hotel in Ensenada (substituting for Shanghai in WW2) about women captured by the Japanese to be their “Comfort Women.”


On the Web there are various discussions about how “good” or “bad” the movie is, bringing up lots of issues of creativity and execution of style on a shoestring budget, artistic concerns close to my own ways of thinking about movies [and probably yours if you’re reading this Blog].

On the film’s IMDB page, there’s an interesting critique by someone who notes that it was screened frequently at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater: the city’s longest-running cinema and highly esteemed funky/alternative screening room. Yet, of course, there are those who just slam this film for the obvious facts that it was done on a bare budget, cast with predominately mediocre actors, and executed with dialog that should have had a minimum of 2 more re-writes.

As for the formal qualities of filmmaking, WOMEN IN THE NIGHT gets off to a rough start: as one guy posted on the Web, it begins very text-heavy with a long crawl of explaination followed by signs on buildings, then signs of offices in the buildings, followed by close-ups of text in the folders held in the offices inside these buildings. Etc., etc.

This was forgivable for me, but when the drama began, as the Nazi matron marches the captured ladies into the reception hall, the director commits the unpardonable sin of movie storytelling: having the camera cross the 180-line so that characters seem to magically jump from one side of the room to the other.

On the other hand, this movie was a great opportunity for Eugen Shuftan to show off his artistic gifts since he’s both director of photography and set designer. Shuftan, a refugee from the Third Reich, had worked on many prestigious productions in Europe (with directors such as G. W Pabst and Billy Wilder), but when he arrived in America at the beginning of WW2, he was never allowed to work in the Hollywood cameramen’s union. Therefore, even though a famous special effects process was invented by him and is still called the “Shuftan Process”, he always worked under the table or under an assumed name on quick-and-dirty productions.

[He worked a lot on Poverty Row productions directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. One Sunday night in the 1980s I was present at an interview with Ulmer’s widow, Shirley, who talked about the great Shuftan, where she expressed total bafflement and frustration about how he couldn’t even get in the union after he won an Oscar for lensing THE HUSTLER!! That classic Paul Newman flick was shot in NYC, where the local union let him work.]

The film also gets Cool Points for casting Jean Brooks (the unforgettable actress from Val Lewton movies such as THE SEVENTH VICTIM) as one of the Comfort Women having a lesbian affair with the Nazi matron of the ladies.

Sex is everywhere in this movie: 16-year-old comfort girls, hetero- and homosexual liaisons, and highly dramatized by-products of sexual slavery: insanity and suicide.

Now that I’ve listed its virtues, the script also has aspects that are pure lame-ass, low-grade comic book junk: Nazi secret weapons, etc. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS fans and Folger’s coffee drinkers will notice the female lead is Virginia Christine, who played Wilma in the 1956 sci-fi classic and was Mrs. Olsen on countless Folger TV commercials.

Like I said, there’s discussion regarding if this film is a waste or a hidden gem.

Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think…

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