'Night People': THR's 1954 Review
On March 12, 1954, 20th Century Fox opened the Gregory Peck thriller Night People at the Roxy Theatre in New York. The film went on to be nominated for an Oscar for its story at the 27th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter's original review, headlined "Night People Absorbing Melodrama With a Wallop," is below.
A gripping, hard-hitting melodrama of the cold war as it is raging in Berlin, Night People may well be rated the best CinemaScope film yet produced. Packing a wallop from beginning to end, this Nunnally Johnson production should pack the theaters. Aside from the entertainment value of an exciting, beautifully acted picture that is consistently absorbing, Night People is the sort of film that should be seen by the American people for the sake of a fuller understanding of the nightmarish world that exists in zoned Berlin, with the Russians, working hand-in-hand with the Nazis, creating a reign of horror that will seem unbelievable to those of us who get only the surface news through impersonally casual headlines.
The story loses no time in getting under way, starting five minutes before the credits come on, with G.I. Ted Avery being kidnapped by the reds after seeing his girl home. His father (Broderick Crawford) being a man of importance back home, Gregory Peck, colonel with CIC, is bombarded with cables from senators, congressmen and governors demanding that the boy be rescued. Accustomed to throwing his weight around, Crawford flies to Berlin determined to get action. He is promptly put in his place by Peck who, of course, has been working continuously on the case. Through an agent (Anita Bjork) Peck has learned that the Russians will return the boy in return for two Germans they want in their clutches. Peck puts it up to Crawford, who wants his son back regardless of who is sacrificed.
He changes later when he meets the elderly couple wanted, the husband a former German general who has had his eyes gouged out by the Nazis. Meanwhile Peck discovers that his trusted agent is actually a spy for the Russians. How he outwits the commies, gets the G.I. back and turns Miss Bjork over to them after planting evidence to make it seem she sold them out makes for as powerful a tale as has been seen in some time.
Johnson clicks wonderfully on all three counts as producer, director and screenplay writer of the story by Jed Harris and Thomas Reed. His gutty megging maintains a taut, suspenseful quality that never falters throughout the fast 93 minutes. Best tribute to this scathing blast at commie tactics is that one so gratefully breathes the free, if smoggy, air upon leaving the projection room.
Peck is at his very best here, tough almost to the point of fanaticism, yet kindly and understanding when called for. Crawford also turns in a masterful job as the aggressive industrialist who finally learns a degree of humility and a respect for the ability of others. Buddy Ebsen is excellent as Peck's sergeant and right hand man, with Casey Adams as a State Department official and Walter Abel as an Army doctor also scoring effectively. On the distaff side brilliant performances are contributed by Rita Gam as Peck's secretary, obviously in love with him, and by Anita Bjork as the spy. Also making an appealing impression is Marianne Koch as the young G.I.'s girl.
Entire picture was shot in Berlin and Munich, with Charles G. Clarke's superb Technicolor lensing taking on added interest because of the location shooting. Cyril Mockridge's music is a dramatically potent factor in establishing mood, with Dorothy Spencer rating kudos for a tight, smooth editing job. The use of stereophonic sound is particularly good, getting direction without dialogue suddenly shooting out from the wall of the theater. — Milton Luban, originally published March 12, 1954.