A Gentleman After Dark (1942)

“Have I got a yen to slip into an evening gown and go slumming.”

A Gentleman After Dark begins on New Year’s Eve 1923, when Gentleman thief Harry ‘Heliotrope’ Melton (Brian Donlevy) pulls off a jewelry robbery and then dashes to the hospital to see his disgruntled wife, Flo (Miriam Hopkins) and their newborn baby, Diana. Fatherhood has a strange affect on Melton–he’s suddenly aware of all the responsibilities that fatherhood brings. Flo, on the other hand, can’t wait to get back to her old partying ways, and resents both the baby and Melton’s new attitude. Melton wants the best things in life for his new daughter, and this causes him to decide to go straight after one last big job….

Melton is incarcerated, and Melton’s childhood friend, policeman Tom Gaynor (Preston Taylor) adopts baby Diana. The film skips 18 years and picks up again in 1942. Gaynor is now a highly respected judge and Diana (Sharon Douglas), now a grown woman, is engaged to the son of the wealthy Rutherford family.

Flo, who’s been involved in various lowlife scams over the last 18 years, hears about her daughter’s promising circumstances and returns to New York to cash in through a nice little blackmail scheme with her shady lawyer Calibra (Douglass Dumbrille). Melton is still in prison, but he hears about Flo’s schemes and is determined to stop her no matter the cost.

A Gentleman After Dark directed by Edward Marin is a fairly mediocre but acceptable vehicle that’s been tagged with the term ‘film noir’, but it’s a tearjerker more than anything else. One of the problems with the film is that although it’s supposed to begin in the 1920s, there’s scant reference to those times. The film was made in the 40s, and it feels like the 40s. Another problem is the aging of the characters–after an 18-year passage of time, Gaynor sports a moustache and what seems to be a heavy tan. Flo hasn’t aged a bit, and Donlevy has some thick grey streaks in his hair. The characterizations remain fairly superficial–without nuance, and the emphasis is on stock characters–so we get the gentleman thief, the straight arrow policeman, etc. For fans of 40s films (me), then A Gentleman After Dark is worth catching, but it’s nothing to get too excited about. From director Edward Marin.

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