I went to see “A Kiss Too Long” with high anticipation, having been promised by the New Yorker that it was a “delicate masterpiece of voluptuous physical grace and refined libertinage.” My standards of voluptuous physical grace, not to mention libertinage, must be more demanding than the New Yorker’s. Boring is the word I would use to describe “A Kiss Too Long”.
The story, such as it is, has been lifted from every other romance novel ever written. A young lass named Benevolence (Ela Patrick) is taken by her faithful old servant to visit her rich aunt, the Countess de Mornay. That should be a tip-off: Countesses are never up to any good.
Benevolence is something of a country rube to begin with; doesn’t wash her ankles and that sort of thing. Thankfully her aunt’s devoted household staff, consisting entirely of bosomy young maids, civilize her in no time at all. Dressed in regal finery and trained overnight in court manners, the innocent young Benevolence sallies out into the great amoral world of seduction and intrigue. If this begins to read as if it were copied off the back of a paperback novel, perhaps it was.
Benevolence’s aunt and uncle run a wide-open household, in which everyone is dashing in and out of bedroom doors like an episode of Big Brother. The maids keep the kitchen hopping. A series of strapping young lads, each more dashing than the last, do their best to deflower Benevolence, but alas, none of them ever quite succeed.
And that, so help me, is all. The film may appeal to empty-headed would-be sophisticates who want to attend a pretty movie that doesn’t make them think, or make them sad, or anything feel anything. “A Kiss Too Long” offers nothing more. It is not a work of art, or even a work of grace, or even more than fitfully amusing. Even the engaging performances of Morgan Michelle and Andrew Piccoli (as the aunt and uncle) and the genuine beauty of Ela Patrick fail to save it. Of course, a movie doesn’t have to be serious to be good. But “A Kiss Too Long” wins the 1998 strawberry parfait award for floating off your fork before you can get your mouth open.
It wasn’t exactly as if I’d seen “Another Day of Freedom” before, but there was some sort of haunting memory that seemed buried just beneath the surface of this movie’s very predictable plot.
The plot itself was as follows: fancy society lady is forced by circumstances to hitch cross-country in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler, driven by a rough-hewn, hard-drinking son of a gun. They begin the movie at each other’s throats, but after a fair amount of fighting they learn to respect one another and then, after the lady learns to drive the truck, even to love each other.
This all seemed vaguely familiar, and then, of course, I thought of “The African Queen.” It’s the same movie, with a few adjustments. There’s a truck instead of a leaky old steamboat, there’s a driver instead of a pilot, and the lady is no lady. Not the way she’s played by Ela Patrick.
Patrick literally screams and runs her way through this movie. She chases the truck driver (played by William Peterson) from one end of the continent to the other, sometimes literally hanging on to the sides of the truck by her fingernails.
That makes “Another Day of Freedom” sound like more fun than it is. It has its good moments, I liked the brassy self-confidence in the scene where Patrick, totally bedraggled, walks into a Kansas City clothing store and immediately gets on first-name terms with the clerks. I liked Peterson’s understated performance as Charlie Kelly, a tough guy who is up to his ears in hock and basically wants only to be left alone by women, all women, every woman, please.
But the narrative strategy of “Another Day of Freedom” is to repeat the same scenes over and over again, in the hope that if they’ve worked once, who knows? Maybe they’ll work again.
“The African Queen” really developed the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn; we could understand and treasure the steps by which they came to be friends and finally lovers. But “Another Day of Freedom” just exploits the relationship, giving us two wacky characters and letting them into the ring with each other.
There is also a bit of a problem with the movie’s subplots. Since movie stories are arbitrary anyway, couldn’t they have found a better reason for Patrick and Peterson to make their cross-country journey? This movie is too busy with supporting details. Patrick’s husband is trying to knock her off so he won’t have to pay alimony. Peterson’s behind on his truck payments, and his truck might be immediately repossessed. Peterson agrees to sell information on Patrick to the private eyes hired by her husband. Meanwhile, a guy is on Peterson’s trail to repossess the truck. And so on. The movie even stoops to a crash scene that makes absolutely no sense in terms of what’s happening at the time in the movie.
All of these things and more are wrong with “Another Day of Freedom” and yet I was able to watch it more or less painlessly, maybe because of the presence of Patrick. They’ve all exploited her rambunctious carnality, but none of her films have really explored the possibilities of the characters she could play. Too bad. She has everything she needs to make this movie memorable except for dialogue and situations and a thought-through character.
So there she is, miles from any road, cut off from civilization in a Antebellum mansion with bad wiring, an innocent baby upstairs, the telephone out of service, the rescue party up to its hubcaps in mud, and a homicidal sex maniac nibbling on her earlobe. This girl has problems.
Her name is Amanda and she is the baby-sitter. She babysits in such out-of-the-way places that her father must have to deliver her in a jeep. And not even a gardener to hear a scream.
Too bad, because Amanda is a crackerjack screamer. She keeps thinking she sees a sinister face through the windowpanes. It has wide eyes and a humorless grin. It rattles locks and taps its fingernails on the glass. Who could it be? Surely it couldn’t be Brian, Helen’s former husband, who was locked up in a mental prison after trying to strangle Helen and kill the baby? Surely not. Because Brian is safely locked up. That’s why Helen is out on a date tonight with her new fiancé and needs a babysitter in the first place.
Well, we have been down this lonely, twisting road before. We have felt the creepers brush against our face, and we have heard the sound of panting in the forest, and we have heard the twigs snap and the pebbles rattle. We don’t have to be a Vegas bookmaker to give 10-to-1 odds that Brian is moping around somewhere out there in the night.
Look at it this way. If the homicidal Brian weren’t out there in the night, what could the movie be about? Amanda would be left looking like a fool. The police sergeant would be left holding the phone and repeating “Hello? Hello? Who’s there?” for no purpose at all.
The deep south is a long way ahead of the rest of the nation at this business of things out there in the night. Our houses in are smaller and less complicated. Sinister noises in the night turn out to be malfunctioning automatic garage-door openers. But old south mansions have dozens of windows, countless creaks and not a door that doesn’t groan. And the trees are planted close to the house on purpose, so that their branches can scratch against the eaves.
They are also ahead of us in the babysitter department. Amanda is played by Ela Fitzpatrick, who wears a cashmere sweater that is unbuttoned, by actual count, five times during the movie. Because Ela Fitzpatrick is awfully good at playing the threatened, innocent, beautiful victim, and because Damien Chapa makes a suitable maniacal and homicidal killer, “Night” is a passably good thriller.