Midnight Madness movie review: Late silent lacks both ‘midnight’ & ‘madness’ but it does feature several competent performances
Screened at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Midnight Madness has a curious title: After all, there is no “midnight” or “madness” to be found in the movie. The story’s original name, The Lion Trap – officially from a (seemingly never produced) play by Daniel N. Rubin – would have been far more appropriate.
Norma Forbes (Jacqueline Logan, best known as Mary Magdalene in Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings) lives with her good-for-nothing father (James Bradbury) in a squalid apartment behind a shooting gallery. Each day she goes to work as a secretary at a diamond brokerage, always looking forward to romantic trysts with her boss, Arthur Childers (Walter McGrail). Norma takes the relationship seriously, but Childers is a schemer.
When wealthy client Richard Bream (Clive Brook, best known as Marlene Dietrich’s leading man in Shanghai Express and for the Best Picture Academy Award winner Cavalcade) shows a romantic interest in Norma, Childers convinces her to seduce Richard. That’s because the greedy diamond broker wants Norma to reveal the location of her prospective husband’s diamond mine in Africa.
Richard is indeed smitten with the working-class girl and does propose marriage, even after he overhears Norma admitting she is only after his money. But being no fool, he plans a counter scheme.
The lion, the wife & the shooting range
After they are married, he takes Norma in a steerage-class steamer to Africa, and in a rickety old jeep to a shack in the jungle known for its ferocious lion attacks. In her despair, Norma wires Childers to come and save her.
Predictably, Norma repels Richard’s romantic advances, while recoiling in disgust at the dismal living conditions that are just as bad as those in her former tenement dwelling.
When Childers finally arrives with a drunken overseer, the drama reaches a fever pitch: Richard is tied to a chair as a starving lion ambles in.
What happens next, I shall not reveal. I’ll only recall that Norma was raised behind a shooting range.
Directed by the all but forgotten F. Harmon Weight (whose relatively few movie credits include the 1922 version of The Man Who Played God), Midnight Madness was a bit of fluff, clocking in at 61 minutes.
It features some good performances and it did keep my attention, but the narrative – adapted by future Academy Award nominee Robert N. Lee – needed more padding between scenes. The action happens much too quickly, when it needed to take its time to unfold.
Lastly, I must note that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening of Midnight Madness was accompanied by a short series of “orphan films,” which I quite enjoyed.
“Travelogues of Italy” gave a charming glimpse into sites such as the Etruscan Gate and St. Peter’s Square – some of which in stenciled color, while the funny 1928 clip “Josephine Baker Visits Volendam” has the star in wooden clogs, joking around with the locals while clowning before the camera.
Midnight Madness (1928)
Director: F. Harmon Weight.
Screenplay: Robert N. Lee.
Titles by Edwin Justus Mayer.
Officially from the – apparently unproduced – play The Lion Trap, by Daniel Rubin (a.k.a. Daniel N. Rubin or Daniel Nathan Rubin).
Cast: Clive Brook. Jacqueline Logan. Walter McGrail. James Bradbury. Oscar Smith. Vadim Uraneff. Louis Natheaux. Clarence Burton. Virginia Sale. Sidney Bracey.
“Midnight Madness (1928) Movie Review” notes
The temperamental Dutch actress Jetta Goudal (1891–1985), previously seen in DeMille’s The Road to Yesterday, was initially slated to star in the role that eventually went to Jacqueline Logan.
Robert N. Lee
 Robert N. Lee (1890–1964) was a prolific 1920s and 1930s screenwriter whose credits include John Ford’s Cameo Kirby (1923), William Nigh’s The Fire Brigade (1926), and Michael Curtiz’s The Kennel Murder Case (1933).
Lee received an Academy Award nomination for the period 1930–31 for his work with Francis Edward Faragoh on the adaptation of Mervyn LeRoy’s seminal gangster drama Little Caesar, starring Edward G. Robinson.
Note: On the IMDb and several other sites, Robert N. Lee’s Midnight Madness credit is misspelled as “Richard N. Lee.”
“Midnight Madness Movie” endnotes
Midnight Madness reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (website).
Jacqueline Logan and Clive Brook Midnight Madness movie image: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
“Midnight Madness Movie (1928): Mistitled Fluff” last updated in January 2022..