If you're a fan of Marty (and really, who isn't?) you'll love this film. It has the same director (Delbert Mann) the same screenwriter (Paddy Chayefsky) and the same feel. Fredric March plays a 56 year old widower, surrounded by men who seem to always be talking of death and sickness or sex and young floozies. He's lonely, depressed, and tired of always spending his nights visiting his daughter or hanging out with his spinster sister.
Desperate, he reaches out to a woman in her 40's who turned down his marriage proposal a few months earlier. The scene is set up in his empty bedroom. He sits on the side of the bed, and calls her on the phone. He looks hesitant, yet eager. "How about we go out for dinner, maybe see a show?" -- then he realizes that she doesn't seem very friendly. He asks why. She's married now. The hurt on his face is heart wrenching.
Later that night, he goes to pick up some papers from his secretary, played by Kim Novak, at the apartment that she shares with her mother. Her husband just divorced her, and she's a complete wreck. Fredric March stays for a while, listens to her problems and cheers her up. The next time he sees her at work, he realizes he's developed a bit of a crush on her -- but he's torn between asking her out or leaving her alone because he is more than twice her age, and she's younger than his own daughter!
This movie just would not have worked if the boss had been played by someone like Cary Grant -- Fredric March was not a dashing older man. He has wrinkles, a belly, a receding hairline, and a strange habit of gnashing his teeth that really made him seem more like 70, not 56. It's not a fairy tale May-December romance. March plays an older man, warts and all.
So when March finally gets up the nerve (pacing back and forth beforehand, you can practically SEE the butterflies in his stomach) to ask Kim out on a date, you can understand why she doesn't look especially thrilled. As they go out on more dates, March turns into an exuberant little boy. He is genuinely giddy every time he's with Kim Novak.
In the end, the movie is about the definition of love. What is love? Is it two people falling head over heels for each other? Yes -- but it can also be an older man finding happiness and a second youth with a disconsolate love-starved woman. It can be two people feeling comfortable together, and helping each other get through the quiet loneliness in the middle of the night.
Middle of the Night is available to watch on youtube here and is included in this Kim Novak DVD set.
This post was originally published on my movie blog, Silents and Talkies.