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Dead of Night, Sweetness and Blight BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN AFTER DARK, MY SWEET Directed by James Foley ROMUALD ET JULIETTE \(MAMA, Directed by Coline Serreau MAN in your condition is easily influenced,” cautions smarmy Doc “You can see the potential for tragedy.” After Dark, My Sweet lacks the spectacle of fallen nobility that would satisfy Aristotle’s definition of tragedy. Kevin “Kid” Collins \(Jason punch-drunk and wine-soused prizefighter who has escaped from a mental ward. Despite the doctor’s caveat, Collins, aka Collie, embraces catastrophe. He also makes love to who offers the drifter a ride to her place, a date farm beside the southern California desert. Collie also falls under the felonious ish con man with a scheme to get rich. He talks Collie into joining him and Fay in a plot to abduct the young son of a wealthy Palm Springs socialite. Director James Foley adapted After Dark, My Sweet from a 1955 novel by Jim Thompson. Thirteen years after his death, Thompson’s quirky tales of insanity and criminality are experiencing a revival in the United States, though they have been long admired in France, where Jerry Lewis is considered king of comedy. From its tacky title to its final closeup of an unseeing eyeball, After Dark, My Sweet strives mightily to be novel. Patric’s Collie has the slurred speech and the simian gait of a retired boxer. He sprays whipped cream directly into his mouth from a can in Fay’s kitchen. Because Fay tells him she prefers the shaggy-dog look, Collie carries a fuzzy face through the days in which the film’s events unfold. Yet, despite consignment to a psychiatric hospital, he resents and resists condescension. After all, he has, as he notes, attended junior college for a year and a half. “I’m not stupid, and I don’t like for The film reviews of Steven Kellman, a professor of comparative literature at the Univer- sity of Texas at San Antonio, regularly appear in the “Books and the Culture” section of the Observer. people to treat me like I am,” insists Collie. He is still smarting from his final bout, where, as revealed in a recurring flashback, he avenged himself for a low blow by attacking the referee and pummeling his helpless, fallen opponent. How Collie perceives and is perceived is the principal interest of After Dark, My Sweet. Foley uses a subjective camera to project the world as seen through Collie’s apprehensive, groggy eyes. Characters, particularly sanctimonious, homophilic Doc Goldman, become caricatures, creatures of a highway whose signs Collie struggles to read. The engine for the movie’s plot is the theme of doubt and the question of whether trust is reason or delusion. Collie swerves between canine devotion to the maternal, fairy-like Fay and a paranoid revulsion from her, a conviction that she, either with or without Uncle Bud, is plotting to kill him and hoard the kidnap ransom. “I like you, mister,” says Charles Vanderventer III, a lonely diabetic not much loved by Charles Vanderventer II, to his inept kidnapper. “I like you very much.” It is a misplaced affection that the kid shares with the viewer. Late in the film, Collie tells Fay that he feigned madness in order to avoid a murder rap. Like Hamlet, he suggests that he is master of an antic mask when the occasion demands. Is that belief itself further evidence of Collie’s delusions? In the final moments of After Dark, My Sweet, Collie appears to offer a supreme sacrifice in order to save Fay, “one last thing to make the whole thing right and leave her in the clear.” It is never entirely clear whether she is worthy of this devotion and whether Collie is ever anything more than the duped chump who thought himself champ. In the bittersweet world that Foley lets us glimpse through Collie’s nervous squint, it is always after dark. CAN A DAPPER Parisian tycoon find happiness with a homely black cleaning woman and the five children she has begotten with as many different husbands? I would not make book on it, but Coline Serreau, who also wrote and directed the paternal fantasy Three Men and a Cradle, has made a movie in which it is not so much love as the necessity for a happy ending that triumphs over the petty obstacles of race and class. Romuald et Juliette, which has also been released as Mama, There’s a Man in Your Bed, is a fable of virtue victorious, in which tensions and vexations are all resolved in a wedding that unites the upper class and the underclass. In our final glimpse of Juliette, she is pregnant again, but this time, married to a powerful white CEO, she is not another welfare statistic. Her mulatto baby will be named Caramel. All of this is more than a little too sweet, a cloying confection that melts in the mouth rather than the heart. Yet it is not nearly as noxious as the yogurt that Blanlait, the corlooses on an unsuspecting public. Desperate to attain top market position in Europe, Romuald orders that production be boosted to 250,000 units per hour. The only way that underling Paulin, who has been promised a vice presidency if he succeeds, can meet that impossible target is to skimp on health inspections. Jealous of Paulin’s promised promotion, a rival employee, Cloquet, secretly injects dyspeptic bacteria into the factory vats. Meanwhile, another disgruntled executive, Blache, creates a trail of insider stock trading that seems to lead to Romuald. When hundreds of customers become sick from his yogurt and government investigators target him for fraud, Romuald is in trouble and out of a job. He takes refuge in Juliette’s overcrowded apartment, and, with her canny help, plots to expose the scoundrels and regain control of an empire of curdled milk. As an invisible cleaning woman in the company offices, Juliette \(Firmine evidence, as well as to the embarrassing fact that Romuald’s protege Paulin has been having an affair with his wife. Romuald relinquishes his treacherous spouse to his guileful assistant and exposes the criminal mischief of his other deputies, but, rather than forswear the entire world of capitalist voracity, he returns to power, intent on salvaging the company’s cash cow by marketing more wholesome yogurt. He also pursues a conjugal merger with Juliette as ardently as if she were a vulnerable corporation. After a perfunctory lesson in humility, Romuald, with the help of lavish gifts, makes his human acquisition. Its title, Romuald et Juliette, makes playful allusion to the Shakespearean tragedy of Montagues and Capulets fatally at odds. It begins with a montage that crosscuts between morning at Romuald’s opulent house and the daybreak routine at Juliette’s cluttered and meager apartment. The chasm THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21 A.,111.41. 1,1,1. spay,