Star In The Night

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Star In The Night (1945) is a two-reel short film produced by Warner Bros. and written by Saul Elkins. The film retells the New Testament story of the Nativity in a modern context, relocating the narrative to a motel in the American South West. Elkins had already made a career for himself as a screenwriter penning quickie pictures like Charlie Chan At The Race Track (1936) and Off The Record (1939). Elkins’ gift as a writer was being able to create plausible, easily recognizable character types in a plot that is overwhelmed by contrivances.

While Elkins’ gifts certainly sell the premise of Star In The Night, it is director Don Siegel who really makes the film feel “alive”. Star In The Night was Siegel’s first assignment as a director at Warner Bros. and already there is a sense of that signature style that would define such later classics as Crime In The Streets (1956) and The Killers (1964). Siegel loves creating claustrophobic, lived in spaces full of grime and wear. Siegel’s sense of detail and place really sell Star In The Night as an authentic snapshot of life on a remote highway motel. There’s also a kind of minimalism to how Siegel’s films are cut that’s already suggested in Star In The Night. When there’s a cut to change angles or track a movement it’s so deliberate and forceful that a certain masculine energy reverberates through the film.

But not all the credit for Star In The Night belongs to Elkins and Siegel. Cinematographer Robert Burks, like Siegel, was just beginning his career. Burks’ background was in special effects before he transitioned too cinematography. He made two short films with Siegel, each with Film Noir influences, before moving into feature work. Burks’ intense stylization and versatility made him one of the most sought after directors of photography in the fifties and sixties. During the course of his career Burks photographed such classic films as Marnie (1964), Vertigo (1958), and The Music Man (1962).

While Star In The Night is obviously of some historical interest, it’s also a moving retelling of the story of Christmas. Just as the post war period was about to begin, Star In The Night presented audiences with a group of disparate individuals who come together as a community to take care of a mother and new born child. Star In The Night is sentimental but never saccharine. It’s an under seen classic that deserves to be an annual staple during the holidays.