I remember a time when John Landis was heralded as a visionary, a director, an auteur who people were excited when a new film would be coming out by him. Then something happened. Most people mistakenly think the Twilight Zone: The Movie incident/horrific accident was the nail in his film making coffin, but as we all know, that is complete bull because even though he was being sued for the situation, he followed up that film with the huge hit Trading Places and possibly the biggest music video of all time, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. I’ll get into where I think he lost his step, but following ‘Thriller’, he made his Hitchcock inspired homage Into The Night, which would fit in perfectly in a double feature with Martin Scorsese’s underrated comedic classic After Hours.
You haven’t heard about the film? My word, I sadly don’t blame you. I feel like it was sandwiched between two of his huge comedic hits, Trading Places and Spies Like Us and with a Michael Jackson music video as well, Into the Night is the kind of film Criterion could give new life to and get a new audience to appreciate the darkly comical tale. Jeff Goldblum stars as Ed Okin, a depressed insomniac who has just found out his wife has been having an affair. Herb (Dan Akroyd), a friend of his, convinces him to drive to the airport to get his mind off of things. There he meets the beautiful Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), a jewel smuggler, who lands on top of his car and begs him to drive her away from the four Iranians who are chasing after her. He is smitten with her, so begins a night of driving her to various locations before even knowing what she is even running away from. Finally he demands to know what is going on and she tells him she’s smuggled emeralds from the Shah of Iran’s treasury into the country, and is being sued by his personal agents and also by a British hitman (played menacingly cool by David Bowie).
That’s just a tip of the iceberg to this wild and crazy film and one that received plenty of negative feedback, one of my favorites coming from Roger Ebert himself commenting on the endless parade of Landis’ friends who make cameo appearances (like he does as well), calling it ‘cinema auto-eroticism’. While that is a bit of an in-joke from a filmmaker who loves the world of film itself (if you’ve ever seen the dozens of Trailers From Hell episodes John Landis presents, you’ll know the man loves film in general), I don’t find it truly distracting. Instead I find it endearing, a filmmaker who just wants to have a good time with his filmmaker buddies while making an interesting and funny film about one man’s journey to finally getting a good night’s sleep.
What makes the film work are the two central performances by Goldblum and Pfeiffer. If anyone knows me, I’m a fan of the Goldblum, loving his 80’s output on higher level than some. Everything from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Fly and Vibes, I feel like he was trying out different roles that someone like James Franco does today and gets praised for doing so. Goldblum should get a big of credit for trying to stretch out his wings and going for a multitude of roles. Pfeiffer was and still is one of my favorite actresses and a cinematic crush that I’ll never shake. And why should I? She’s still been absolutely great in films (even in the abysmal Dark Shadows, I was happy to see Pfeiffer having a bit of fun and the fantastic and almost forgotten Stardust should be given a shot by everyone). And in this you, as the audience, fall for her even though she’s essentially a thief.
What could we expect from a Criterion special edition? There’s a lot that I could envision in this release. A John Landis, Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer commentary track would be essential stuff, considering it could be a great and informative track (especially from Landis who has a great memory for his films). We could also get the documentary he collaborated with Jeff Okun at the time to promote the movie, B.B. King “Into the Night” and the three music videos for the songs B.B. King did for the soundtrack, “Into the Night”, “Lucille” and “In the Midnight Hour”. Also, which might be a bit on a downer side, a documentary on what John Landis was going on at the time with the trial for the deaths of Vic Morror and the two children during his part of the Twilight Zone: The Movie shoot would give an insight into a filmmaker who had a lot more on his mind at the time as opposed to what shots might be best for a scene. Pro or con for Landis and those who were involved during that traumatic incident, I think Criterion would give a fair and balances look at that time period. Also any other fans out there of the film who would want to speak about the film in general, which there has to be a few more than just me out there, would work perfectly into the set.
Also a list/scenes with all the cameos in the film, from directors such as David Cronenberg, Roger Vadim, Paul Bartel, Jonathan Demme (all of whom are Criterion alumni), Don Siegel and many others, would be a fun extra that people who bought the film and wanted to make sure they knew who each of these people played in the film. Plenty of other people, such as Dan Akroyd, could do an interview for the film (just don’t ask him about the next Ghostbusters film or aliens and we’ll be fine) and maybe getting a few of the critics who gave the film negative reviews look back at the film and see if they’ve changed their outlook on the film or if it has stayed primarily the same.
So in some ways I think this is the forgotten John Landis masterpiece (I think he’s made two masterpieces, An American Werewolf in London and The Blues Brothers, with Trading Places and Animal House being great films as well). But where did it all go wrong? The film I point to, one that I think is truly atrocious, was his entry in the tired Eddie Murphy franchise, Beverly Hills Cop III. That is possibly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, let alone a terrible sequel to an underwhelming series of films already. And from that point on Landis never really hit paydirt again. I’ll give him two films in the last 20 or so years that I liked a lot, and they were two documentaries he directed, Slasher and Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Story. Those two are worth checking out. Stay far away from Blues Brothers 2000, The Stupids, Burke & Hare (a true missed opportunity) and the few other films he’s directed since his heyday. Stick with his Trailers From Hell entries to see the man be charming, geeky and the true lover of film we all know he is.