Middle of the Night (1959)Directed by Delbert Mann
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
It might be the norm, the usual, but it is also a cliché.
In the May - December male - female relationship the man is powerful and he uses his power to gain sexual access to the young woman. He is her boss at work. He is at least 55 or 60 years old and has spent his life in a productive career so he has top notch housing and has a lot of disposable income to spend on the easily impressed young woman. He has a wife, or has recently abandoned a woman closer to his own age. He has a daughter who is around the age of the younger woman.
The younger woman is either a gold digger, out for his money or at least impressed by it and naturally enjoying the perks of hanging with someone rich and powerful rather than the relatively silly boys of her own age. She has daddy issues. She is inexperienced and naive, maybe not that bright. But she has her youth, her beauty, a nice body, which are her primary assets in the relationship marketplace.
Middle of the Night is a very fine movie. From the leading players on down it is filled with the best actors available. It is shot in B&W on location in New York City. It has some of the best, most real feeling, New York scenes in any movie. It is shot in the winter and the New York winter is allowed to be itself in a way unusual in movies. Principal players do an important scene in Central Park on a snowing dark cloudy day. Fredric March walks across the street on one of those days when it is sort of raining or snowing, and the street has water puddles and snow and slush. I don’t think I have ever seen a shot like that in a movie. The apartments are real NYC apartments not the enormous apartment sets often in movies that any New Yorker can see as unreal.
The movie is unusual and special because it takes on this topic to begin with. It is a justifiable criticism of movies through the decades that older leading men movie stars are often put in romantic situations with the new young starlet. Like a 25 year age gap between a Cary Grant and and Audrey Hepburn, etc.
In this movie Fredric March plays 56 but he is really 62 and at that age is no longer that handsome leading man of 30 years before. His eyes look saggy, he in not fit, has a belly, he is just not a sex symbol. The woman is played by beautiful blond Kim Novak. She is supposed to be 24 in the movie and is in fact still in her 20s when the movie was made.
He is the boss, she the receptionist, their relationship is not equal, she is a confused divorcee who lives in a very modest apartment with her mother.
He is a widower, has a nice apartment, falls in love with her, is physically forceful at one point, and she is more or less going along with his expressed needs and adoration. But it is not coming from her. He is driving it.
The script is very well crafted. Paddy Chayefsky put his skill as a dramatist to use in this very fine well directed and acted movie. Chayefsky was only in his mid 30s when he wrote this. I don’t know what attracted him about the situation. It has a satisfying yet opened end finale. It is a very good movie.
But what if the man is not particularly powerful? What if he has been more or less a slacker? What if in opposition to having this attractive wealth, he has literally nothing, lives on a tiny fixed income? What if they, once together, have to move in with her parents because he doesn’t have that fancy apartment to share? There is another side of everything. There is an enormous variety of human experience so this type of May - December relationship happens too.
What if they are same sex or trans people? And a 30 year difference is not the same if the woman is 34 rather than 24, or 44 to his 74.
But what is the drama if there is no disapproving daughter the same age as the young lover? What if she really loves him for the sad lost human he is, who is open about his humanity and capable of a warmth and connection that she finds rare? Well, there might not be a lot of movie type drama in that. These might be the kind of issues that cannot be easily seen in the voyeuristic manner of looking on at lives via a play or movie and judging the characters by their movement and actions rather than what might be going on constantly within them. In this situation she might really adore him but wonder how she will support him and herself, especially as he gets older. She might feel frustrated that she can’t fill out his dreams.
He might worry that he is using up her youth. That he can’t provide for her and liberate her from the drudgery of work or get her a nice place to live like, as he imagines, many other men his age could. (The ones in the movies who have worked hard and accumulated wealth over the years and still have some after the settlement with the ex.) He might be concerned with his health as he ages. He might be OK for the time being and virile enough, but how long can these things last? After all 50 doesn’t seem so long ago, so 80 is right around the corner, it’s it? He might worry that he is not fun enough, and been-there-done-that on too many things she still needs to do. But day to day there might not be a lot of visible drama and it is not easy to show in the movies. But that’s why novels can be so superior to movie fiction, that real internal stuff.
Middle of the Night, written and directed by men, is from the male point of view. It might be somehow progressive for it’s time, but it is still written from the mindset on the 1950s patriarchy. If the culture is to move forward we need to hear from a much wider variety of voices sharing their relationship experiences. Stories like this can often feel terribly stale, along with the male point of view dominant in corporate media, there is also the competitive factor so supported by corporate media with it's endless jealousy stories. Like I said before there is a wide variety of age variant relationships. Same sex, trans, polyamorous, on and on.
In the story of Middle of the Night, why couldn’t she have her retuning young male former husband and well as the older man? Why are they viewed as redundant and competitive when clearly they were suited to and helped full entirely different areas of her emotional need?
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