Sub-title: “Much Ado About Nothing”
After completing a variety of films that made her a household name in France, Brigitte Bardot collaborated with her husband Roger Vadim (in his first directing effort) on the film And God Created Woman (1956). A rather sensual film and good advertising for St. Tropez, it went over very well abroad, earning $4 million in the United States alone. Heartened by the film’s success, Bardot and Vadim collaborated on screen again with Les bijoutiers du claire de lune, known internationally as The Night Heaven Fell. This time, Vadim had Cinemascope and Spain replaced the French Riviera as the setting, but the film (which Vadim also co-wrote) had little life — so little that not even a few provocative outfits and poses by Bardot could enliven it.
Home Vision Entertainment has now made The Night Heaven Fell available on DVD as part of its Brigitte Bardot Collection.
Ursula returns from a convent to stay with her aunt and uncle. While Ursula travels from the train station to their villa, Lamberto — a local young stud — steals a ride in her car. His sister has just committed suicide, apparently after being seduced by Ursula’s uncle, and Lamberto plans to confront him. Lamberto, however, is brutally beaten and only saved by Ursula’s intervention.
As the days pass, Ursula realizes that her aunt and uncle are estranged and she finds herself the object of her uncle’s unwanted attentions. Eventually, Lamberto recovers and he returns and kills Ursula’s uncle. He then sleeps with her sexually deprived aunt and when he is charged with uncle’s murder soon thereafter, he flees with Ursula’s help into the hills. The two embark on an increasingly desperate trek as Lamberto seeks a way to escape from Spain and the pursuing authorities.
It was the innocence of the 1950s that made films like those Brigitte Bardot appeared in seem titillating. Nowadays, one wonders what the fuss was about. Stripped of such innocence, one is only left with the story and the mechanics of filmmaking that went into it. In an earlier film such as Plucking The Daisy, the remains were quite palatable, but that is far from the case with The Night Heaven Fell.
It shouldn’t necessarily have been so, for director Roger Vadim had a decent budget at his disposal that allowed for the use of colour and Cinemascope, extensive location shooting in Spain, Bardot as the star, and even money for an international name such as Stephen Boyd to co-star. It was all for naught, though, because Vadim (with Jacques Rémy) first managed to concoct an incredibly banal script and then did a very uneven job filming it. The fight that he stages between Lamberto and Ursula’s uncle has to be one of the most pathetically choreographed efforts ever committed to film. Given that John Wayne and Yakima Canutt had worked out the mechanics of how to stage realistic fist-fight scenes about two decades previously, Vadim’s work here is unacceptably poor. But that’s only the first of a number of instances in which Vadim tries our patience. Far too many shots are drawn out too lengthily and his selection of long shot vs. medium shot vs. close-up is questionable. Camera placement often seems more designed to draw attention to itself than to further the plot (for example, the overhead shots in the windmill).
Not particularly helpful either are the efforts of the main actors. Brigitte Bardot and Stephen Boyd have about as much animation as a couple of totem poles. Bardot seems to have regressed; she’s not nearly as natural and appealing as in earlier films. Some of her reactions are phony-looking, as though she were an untried rookie at film-making. Boyd, who was interesting earlier in The Man Who Never Was (1956) and would be again in later years (Ben-Hur ) was generally more at home in action-oriented pictures. The turgid drama of The Night Heaven Fell doesn’t suit him and his physical movements on the screen seem mechanical, as though he realizes that he’s not in his element.
Lest one think the film’s a complete bust, let me point out that Spain makes a great setting for the picture. Alida Valli (memorable from The Third Man), who here plays Ursula’s aunt, brings some dignity and professionalism to the proceedings.
Home Vision Entertainment presents The Night Heaven Fell in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced, and utilizing 19 scene selections. This is a good workmanlike effort. The image is generally crisp and clear, but it’s not without a number of speckles and the odd soft patch. Colour fidelity is quite pleasing. Blacks are generally solid and shadow detail, with a few exceptions, is fine. Overall, one could say that the image transfer is more than the film deserves.
The audio is composed of a Dolby Digital French mono track with optional English subtitles. The sound is quite clear for a film of this vintage and the subtitling is well done, conveying the French dialogue accurately and with just the right amount of detail to allow comprehension without being burdensome. There is one instance near the end of the film (while Bardot and Boyd are in the caves) when a couple of lines of Bardot’s spoken dialogue drops out. The accompanying subtitles are present, however.
Supplements are meager. There are trailers for the film plus two other Bardot films and a Bardot filmography. This time, we don’t get the postcards that Home Vision including in the Plucking the Daisy DVD case.
The Night Heaven Fell is a Bardot entry that delivers little. The film has a poor script, is directed as though the director were an amateur, and features principal actors who seem ill at ease when they appear to be alive at all. Home Vision’s DVD is a more-than-reasonable effort given the film’s merit. If you only want to have one example of a Brigitte Bardot film in your collection, this isn’t the one.