I’ve always been a fan of John Landis’ films. He’s directed a number of classics including Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and An American Werewolf in London. The director is also known for occasionally giving cameos to other filmmakers. You can usually find a few peppered throughout most of his movies, but one of his films is practically bursting at the seams when it comes to director cameos. It also happens to be one of the least known of Landis’ films, and one I had never seen until now – 1985’s Into the Night.
The story concerns Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum), an average guy who works for an aeronautics company and is suffering from insomnia. One day, Ed leaves the office early to try and get some rest only to return home and find his wife in bed with another man. She doesn’t notice him and he does nothing. Later that night, Ed, still unable to sleep, gets in his car and drives to the airport. It seems that he may be taking the advice of his coworker, Herb (Dan Aykroyd) to get out of town. Any plans he may have had change quickly, however, when a beautiful girl named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) jumps into his car as she tries to escape from a quartet of middle eastern hitmen (one of whom is played by director Landis).
It seems that Diana has knack for getting mixed up with the wrong people and did some work smuggling some jewels into the country from the middle east. Now it seems many parties are out to get the goods. Ed feels like he has to help this girl and he ends up accompanying her as she zig zags around LA trying to get the help she needs. They visit a Hollywood movie set and also drop in on her Elvis impersonator brother (Bruce McGill) to steal his car. Ed also runs across a bizarre British hitman played by David Bowie. Trouble builds at every turn and soon bodies start pilling up. That leaves Ed and Diana to try and figure out a brilliant way of fooling the bad guys long enough to hop and plane and get out of the country.
Into the Night seems a lot like John Landis’ take on North by Northwest, and I gotta admit I really dug it. The jewels are a classic example of a MacGuffin – only there to give an excuse for having a film that is essentially a two hour chase. I wouldn’t have expected it, but the mixture of Hitchcockian elements with Landis’ quirky sense of humor works quite well. Landis also has a some bizarre but effective ways of bringing tension to some scenes. One that particularly stands out is a sequence where Goldblum slowly wanders through a dark hotel suite with the sounds and flashing images of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein playing on multiple TV’s throughout the room. It’s such a wonderfully out there choice and Landis is probably one of the few directors who could pull off such an odd mix. There are some other great examples of Landis’ quirky sense of humor throughout the film, such as the many images of Elvis plastered across Diana’s brother’s apartment, and some gags involving the middle eastern hitmen during the film’s conclusion.
Landis also does a very nice job of capturing the feel of LA at night. He uses his locations well and the photography is both stylish and creative. You could say that parts of the film could be seen as a love letter to the City of Angels. At the same time, the sequence that takes place on a movie set is a good-natured jab at LA’s movie industry as a whole. The fact that so many filmmakers appear in the film just reinforces this. Look for the likes of Paul Mazursky, Jonathan Demme, David Cronenberg, Roger Vadim, Jack Arnold, Paul Bartel, Rick Baker, and even Muppet master Jim Henson.
A big part of why the film works is the two leads. Goldblum is perfectly cast as a sad sack who is suddenly thrown into an adventure. Heck, Goldblum, with his heavy-looking eyes and long face, often looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks, so he’s very believable as an insomniac. Meanwhile, this may be Pfeiffer at her most gorgeous. She absolutely glows throughout this movie. She’s got trouble and danger written all over her, yet if you were Goldblum you’d help her too. Oh, and though it’s a very brief performance, David Bowie is fantastic. Both menacing and funny.
It’s no surprise that Into the Night is a somewhat forgotten entry in John Landis’ filmography. It’s much more subtle than his other work. It doesn’t grab you in the way that his famous 100 police car pileup does, or his iconic werewolf transformation sequence. But the film is stylish and quirky and worthy of discovery.