Vincent Sherman’s “All Through the Night” opens in the vein of comedy with mobster cum gambler Gloves Donahue (Humphrey Bogart) sitting down at his favorite diner and ordering cheesecake. Like any other day, he wants the good cheesecake, the cheesecake made by Miller. Alas, there is no Miller’s Cheesecake today and so they will have to serve Gloves a different cheesecake in the hope he won’t notice the difference. Director Vincent Sherman films this sequence like a game of telephone, waiter to line cook to sous chef to chef and back again, each man expressing hesitancy at trying to pull a fast one on Gloves yet going through with it nonetheless. Sure enough, Gloves gets his cheesecake, takes one bite and lets the whole diner staff have it cuz he ain’t having it. It suggests a lightly comic film where Bogey does Bogey – cracks wise, talks tough and gets to the bottom of everything lickety split. But “All Through the Night” is a bit more of a tonal curio, which marries a yarn involving a vile Nazi plot to bomb a battleship in New York Harbor.
Indeed, even when the plot is set in motion, when Miller is offed by a few Nazi thugs and Gloves and his right-hand man Sunshine (William Demarest) find Miller’s body and become determined to find out who did it, the movie never quite stops being a lark, with a scene of sleuthing continually interrupted by Sunshine’s pal running into things and falling down, suggesting not all derring-do is cut and paste, and all manner of one-liners. This, however, never fails to not feel right. After all, “All Through the Night” was filmed pre-Pearl Harbor, a different time in America than post-Japanese attack, and so rather than being a valorous standing up to the Nazis, it’s more like throwing a pie in their face. Look no further than the exercise in supreme, wonky hilarity near the end when Gloves and Sunshine beat up a couple Nazi saboteurs, assume their identities and infiltrate a secret Nazi meeting detailing the plans to sink the battleship. What ensues isn’t so much suspense as hijinks with Gloves called upon by a no-nonsense commander to deliver a report about the mines which leads to a back and forth between an out of their element Gloves and Sunshine that uses “Heil!” as a repeated punchline.
That’s not to suggest that Gloves and compatriots don’t take this seriously. They do. The deeper down the rabbit hole their amateur investigation goes and the more truth they uncover about German duplicity
“All Through the Night” is a gang of gamblers slowly getting woke, evinced by one character telling Gloves it’s time to stop paying attention to the sports section and look at the front page. It all builds to a big speech delivered by Gloves to a gang of gamblers imploring them to get woke too. “They’re no bunch of petty racketeers trying to muscle in on some small territory,” he explains of their adversaries, “they want to move in wholesale, take over the whole country. They’ll tell you what you eat, what kind of clothes you can wear, what you drink. They’ll even tell you the morning paper you can read.” “That’s unconstitutional!” is the reply. Sigh.
All this, of course, is nothing if not far-fetched, which Bosley Crowther, that cantankerous semi-legend, pointed out in his original review for The New York Times. “One would hate to think,” he wrote, “that an enemy plot of such elaborate magnitude as the one presented here should be so completely overlooked by our capable F.B.I. and that the responsibility for licking it should fall upon a semi-gangster.” Fair enough. But then, watching “All Through the Night” isn’t about the F.B.I., capable though they may be, but New Yorkers, rough and tumble, this is our city New Yorkers, who answer the bell. It made me think of another Bogart film, “Casablanca”, when villainous Major Strasser cockily asks Bogey’s Rick Blaine if he can imagine the Nazis invading New York. Blaine’s response might well have been the mission statement of “All Through the Night.”
He says: “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”