The more obscure the noir film, the more it adheres to the genre’s conventions and Night Editor is as obscure and as B as they get. As film noir it has the classic femme fatal and the good man gone wrong who must choose between keeping a secret that will ruin him and doing the right thing. A cop (William Gargan) and his married socialite lover (blond Janis Carter) witness a brutal murder while making out by the ocean. He tries to apprehend the murderer but is afraid he will ruin his marriage and career both of which he has been putting in jeopardy to have the affair. She doesn’t want him to tell the truth because it will ruin her too. Naturally, such inaction is never rewarded and the cops soon arrest another man and accuse him with the murder, eventually sentencing him to the chair. Gargan’s character is wracked with guilt and tries to figure out how to do the right thing while keeping out of trouble. Of course that is impossible because the basic premise of a noir is the conflict between doing the right thing and saving yourself. What makes his problem worse is his lover, now ex-lover, doesn’t want to go to the police. Instead, she has taken up with the killer and is now protecting him, partly as revenge because he left her and partly because she is intoxicated by the murder, and partly because she thinks the victim deserved it. Although she turns fatal quite quickly, she is the true fatal: cold, ruthless, selfish, and sexy. The cop gets more and more irritable until his partner, a wise and kindly German, gets him to tell him the truth. The cop realizes he has evidence that will corroborate his story so they go to his ex-lover’s home to confront her. He finds her alone in the kitchen and after he has told her she has no way out she stabs him with an ice pick.
Night Editor, though, is not an existential fable of the best noir, but a morality play and though Carter’s character gives the movie a trashy joy, it suffers from its earnestness. First, the cop’s family is in such stark opposition to the jaded and glamorous world his lover comes from, it is obvious that the cop has made a mistake. How could one leave such an ideal world? Moreover, the film is more concerned with the rightness or wrongness of the affair, not what led to it, which would make room for moral ambiguity.
However, what makes the film completely awkward is the frame story that surrounds the movie. The film takes the name Night Editor because the framing device is a news room where editors talk about old stories. As the film opens a young reporter walks into the news room and passes out at his desk. The wise old editor decides to tell the story of a cop who had a good family and went astray. At the end of the movie when the editor has told the story, the young report sees the light and renounces the parting he has been doing. He goes to the restroom to buy cigarettes and there he meets the cop who now works as a mens room attendant. The reporter is so overcome by this example of where a bad decision can lead he heads right home to apologize.
Night Editor is one of those noir films that show just how common place the conventions of noir were and just how the basic elements were used as a template for the most B films. In many ways, its as if a certain number of films need love scenes and a certain number needed to have vicious blonds. What does it say about an era that needed to use women as mirrors for men’s consciouses.