The Fourth Night, Written by Mike Briock
In 1940 Los Angeles, bank president Henry Miller has gotten into trouble with the mob. When Miller is found dead, it attracts the attention of Steven Hawk, a private investigator in New York who travels across the country to investigate the mysterious circumstances of Miller’s disappearance on behalf of his client in L.A., Susan Johnson. But before he can meet with Susan she, too, is found dead. His investigation brings him into contact with mob bosses and henchmen of various sorts, L.A. cops who would prefer that Steven stay out of their business, and a beautiful woman named Joyce stuck in the middle of what turns out to be a complicated criminal drama.
The Fourth Night delivers a developed plot with sophisticated twists, and the screenplay manages to tell a new story within a familiar frame of reference. The story has a good sense of criminal thrill, from the interactions between Steven and the mobsters to those between Steven and Joyce — the seductive but suspicious woman near the centre of the drama. There is a lot of action in this movie, from fistfights to gunfights, and it evokes the mid-century era of The Godfather, with its Tommy Guns, booze, fedoras, and of course, ubiquitous Italian mobsters. Steven Hawk is an effective private investigator whose missions constantly get him stuck in strange and dangerous situations. (When we first meet him, he’s battling crew members on a Chinese freighter before jumping into the ocean.) He’s clever, suave, and according to the screenplay, ‘ruggedly handsome’ — and in the end it’s thanks to him that the mystery has any chance of being solved. The dialogue throughout, and Steven’s in particular, is quick-witted, responsive to the evolving drama, and provides consistent comic relief even in the heat of intense moments. When Helen, the new bank president, is also found murdered, Los Angeles’s Detective Parker comments incredulously on the string of killings: ‘First Henry, then Susan, and now Helen’.
‘Working at this bank has become a deadly occupation’, says Steven. His witty lines come from another era, and wise cracks like this sprinkle the story with humour. Our protagonist is driven to solve the murder mystery, but he also doesn’t take himself too seriously. Finding himself constantly in situations that threaten his life, he’s used to cracking jokes at otherwise dire moments — and somehow, he always manages to get out alive. Steven’s sexually-charged, adversarial relationship with Joyce is made for cinema: The screenplay choreographs their movements, and the imagery tells a story beyond the dialogue. The omission of details by the prescribed placement of the camera invites intrigue and heightens the tension of the mystery. Characters meet secretly with each other, for example, but the perspective of the camera makes it impossible to know who it is they are meeting with — or why. Characters speak, but until the puzzle pieces start to fit together, we have to guess who they’re speaking to. In the end though, the complicated plot is explained tidily for the audience, and it’s thanks to Steven’s deductions and the willingness of the bad guys to explain themselves that the mystery, while complicated, is also made accessible.
The Fourth Night incorporates traditional elements from mob, crime, and detective genres (and the usual characters) to present a drama with satisfying twists. The well-written dialogue and well-organised plot make for a great story. ■
Length: 93 pages
Genre: Crime, Drama
Country: United States
Find out more
Find out more about this screenplay and its author from Twitter @MBriock. Mike Briock is an American screenwriter whose works include Antinean, Cajun Justice, Hibernation, and Love & Happiness.
This screenplay was selected for the 2016 Atlas Awards Official Selection.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: iStock.com/LiliGraphie