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Into the Night & After Hours: How BB King, John Landis and Martin Scorsese Fit Into the Yuppie Nightmare Cycle

Posted on the 16 May 2015 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

“Why can’t I sleep?”

That’s the question Jeff Goldblum asks himself throughout Into the Night.  It was also the thought running through my ahead around 2 AM on a random weeknight a couple of months ago. I was going through a weird, mild bout with insomnia in which I kept waking up every night around 2 or 3 AM and could not get back to sleep. As a pop culture obsessive, my initial instinct was to simply turn on the TV and flip through the channels in search of something to watch. One night I stumbled upon the middle of the opening credits sequence of 1985’s Into the Night.  I had no idea what the film was about or who was in it. I just knew I’d never heard the BB King song (the appropriately titled “Into the Night”) playing over the soundtrack as a car dashboard camera depicted the nocturnal happenings of mid-80s Los Angeles.

I was instantly drawn in by the mystery of hearing a new song (well, new to me) by an artist I liked, and sucked in by the nostalgic reminder of a time when movies used to think it was totally okay to spend the first 2-4 minutes playing an entire song set to mood-setting imagery before showing us any of the characters. Once the characters did show up, I was stunned to see a very young Jeff Goldblum (playing a married engineer named Ed Okin) staring up at the ceiling of his bedroom in the middle of the night, his insomnia mirroring my own. In fact, the entire film hinges upon his insomnia. His nighttime boredom leads him to aimlessly drive around town before making it to the parking garage of the Los Angeles airport’ where he briefly ponders a work friend’s (Dan Aykroyd) advice to take a quick flight to Las Vegas and cheat on his wife as revenge for the affair she’s having. As soon as he thinks better of it, a very young Michelle Pfeiffer (character name=Diane) suddenly jumps in the back of his car, sucking him into her flight from four very irate Iranians, one of whom is played the film’s director, John Landis.


Another tagline: Ed Okin used to have trouble sleeping. Then, one night, he met Diana. Now, Ed’s having trouble staying alive.

And that begins what Leighton Grist once described as the “yuppie nightmare cycle” sub-genre, a President Reagan-era combination of screwball comedy with film noir.  It always involves a white yuppie being pulled into a world unknown to them, usually a white male by a mysterious white female.  Examples include Blue Velvet (1986), Something Wild (‘86) and the Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger comedy Blind Date (’87).

In the case of Into the Night, it’s definitely a “ wrong place at the wrong time” comedy.  It takes place mostly over one very long night as Ed is drawn into a convoluted plot involving drug mules and wealthy Middle-Eastern princes. With Diane by his side, he encounters various facets of the LA night life, such as 24/7 diners, Elvis impersonators, nighttime shoots for Hollywood movies, and raging parties at glitzy hotels. David Bowie even shows up as a delightfully menacing antagonist, catching me so off guard I said aloud, “Holy shit! Is that David Bowie? What’s he doing here?”

Following the film every step of the way, though, is BB King’s instantly recognizable guitar licks, punctuating the quieter moments and underscoring transitional scenes. In addition to performing the title song, BB King also performed “My Lucille” and “In the Midnight Hour” for the soundtrack, although all of the songs were composed by Ira Newborn.

Sadly, BB King died yesterday, passing away peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of 89. He had been on a seemingly endless concert tour until falling ill during a show last October, subsequently canceling any remaining dates. He was the, as THR said, the “last of the Southern-born blues musicians who defined modern electric blues in the 1950s and would influence scores of rock and blues guitarists.” But back in the 80s, Kings recording career had slowed down. At the time of Into the Night, he had not yet recorded “When Loves Comes to Town” with U2 and made his appearance with them on the Rattle & Hum tour. As such, his appearance on the Into the Night soundtrack was quite notable, and John Landis even made a 27-minute documentary about the recording process.

The actual film probably dips into the well of having King sing the chorus of “Into the Night” in-between scenes one too many times.  However, such an unrelenting march into night must have been how Landis felt at the time.  He was still dealing with the legal fallout of the deaths of three actors on the 1982 set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Vic Morrow and two child actors, aged 6 and 7, died when a helicopter stunt went very, very wrong. Landis was charged with manslaughter, but the only guilt he acknowledged was knowingly hiring the child actors in violation of California law which prohibited them from working at night or in proximity to explosions. He was acquitted of all charges, but not until 1987. As such, in 1985 making a film about a man suffering through insomnia and plunging headlong into an endless, increasingly hostile night, seemed to mirror Landis’ own state of mind, a reflection of his dark knight of the soul.

That’s not to suggest that Into the Night is a deadly serious.  It’s actually supposed to be taken as a black comedy even though it’s never particularly amusing, earning a smirk or slight chuckle in its best moments, such as an ocean-side killing in which the murderers prefer to first take off their shoes due to all the sand.  There is, unfortunately, an alarming amount of casual racism directed at the Middle-Eastern characters, although this was also the same year of Doc Brown fighting off the Libyans in Back to the Future.  Goldblum, mostly playing the straight man, and Pfeiffer, a delightful screw-up, deliver performances which are probably better than the actual film, with Goldblum doing the sleep-deprived deadpan thing nearly a decade before David Duchovny made it his defining characteristic with The X-Files.


Dunne and Arquette in After Hours

You could argue that Into the Night is actually part of an even smaller subset of the yuppie nightmare cycle of films: the long, crazy night in hell.  There’s Blind Date, and there’s also Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985). Similar to Landis, Scorsese was coming off considerable professional strife.  His film Last Temptation of Christ finally got made in 1988 through Universal Pictures, but he originally worked on it in 1982 at Warner Bros. before they grew weary of its budget and controversy and canceled it in 1983.  After Hours, based on a screenplay written by a 26-year-old film student, was what Scorsese made instead.

Like Into the Night, it depicts a meek white guy with a boring job who impulsively travels to a different area of town where he meets a beguiling young woman as precursor for a night he can’t get out of.  In this case, Griffin Dunne plays a word processor who travels to Manhattan’s Soho District where he hits it off with gorgeous but clearly unbalanced Marcy (Rosanna Arquette).  After their coffee shop encounter, he calls her from his home to set up a date, and rushes back to Soho to meet her.  There, he meets her Bohemian artist roommate (Linda Fiorentino), who puts him to work on her person-shaped paper machete model in the center of the loft.  Once Marcy arrives, something is clearly off about her, running hot one minute, cold the next, Dunne seemingly working through in his head just how much work he wants to put into his chances for a one-night stand.

Soon, you’re left wondering if a hook-up is imminent or if perhaps Marcy and her roommate are plotting to kill the poor guy and turn him into a paper machete art piece.  Scorsese plays with the idea that something is not right, be it whispered conversations barely heard or seen through opaque glass doors, a stack of weird books in Marcy’s bedroom, etc. Around the time Marcy blurts out details of her former marriage and a prior sexually violent encounter is when Dunne finally reaches the “That’s it.  I’m outta here” stage.  He makes up an excuse and hightails it out of there.  However, as IMDB put it, he “finds himself trapped there in Soho in a nightmarishly surreal vortex of improbable coincidences and farcical circumstances.”  He has no money to pay for train fair home, every woman he meets seems to be into him before turning on him, and eventually a vigilante mob wants him dead, blaming him for the neighborhood thefts perpetrated by the cameoing Cheech & Chong (Oddly, Into the Night also has cameos, in the form of countless notable LA filmmakers of the era).

Scorsese’s nocturnal Soho is a place where good intentions go to die, comically exasperating Dunne along the way, putting our white collar hero into continual conflict with various blue collar workers (like John Heard’s bartender, Teri Garr’s waitress, or Catherine O’Hara’s ice cream vendor) and artists (Linda Fiorentino’s sexually aggressive conceptual artist).  By contrast, Landis’ nighttime LA is a place of constant motion, glitz, glamor and broadly sketched cartoon-like characters.  His version of class conflict is watching Goldblum trades up from white collar living to wandering around Hollywood mansions and acting as go-between for warring factions of the mob whose goals end up being oh so mundane and practical.  Goldblum’s insomnia-related concerns rob him of any ability to truly react to the bizareness of it all.  He’s just too tired to register much of a surprise whereas Dunne’s “I know this is going to sound crazy, but…” explanations and related descent into frustrated madness is quite often hilarious.  Of course, Into the Night is more or less a screwball comedy about a mismatched pair falling in love while enduring extreme circumstances, making it the more traditional narrative, while After Hours is about a yuppie who heads to Soho to get laid but instead gets chased by an angry mob.  After Hours is the better movie, but Into the Night is quite the curiosity for Goldblum, Pfeiffer, or BB King fans.  Plus, David Bowie’s extended cameo as a tough secret agent is so bonkers it’s awesome.

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