Night of the Quarter Moon movie review: Unashamedly sensational miscegenation melodrama is a must-see curiosity
In the opening scene of Hugo Haas’ overwrought 1959 melodrama Night of the Quarter Moon, Julie London looks just like Bette Davis in King Vidor’s Beyond the Forest. All London needed was a peasant blouse and a cigarette, and she’d be Rosa Moline.
That’s not the only thing that struck me as curious during the film’s first few minutes. London, for instance, has no dialogue while her property is being ransacked and her windows smashed by a couple of rowdy neighborhood boys. No screaming, no protests.
But why are they on the attack?
That question is answered by the flashback.
That’s when we’re introduced to Roderic ‘Chuck’ Nelson (John Drew Barrymore), a rich young man and shell-shocked World War II veteran who falls in love with a good-looking young woman, Ginny O’Sullivan (Julie London), when he sees her swimming nude during a visit to Mexico.
Ginny, however, has a big secret to tell: She is a quadroon, i.e., one-quarter black.
Hence the movie’s title.
Trouble starts brewing when Chuck marries Ginny and takes her home to meet his wealthy family in San Francisco.
When Chuck is arrested for defending his wife against the neighbors’ assault, the police inquest and the behavior of his own mother (Agnes Moorehead) cause him to suffer a recurrence of his post-traumatic stress disorder. Following Chuck’s breakdown, the Nelson family confines him to their mansion and prevents Ginny from seeing him.
It should be noted that John Drew Barrymore – looking awfully good in tight swimming trunks – does a convincing job as the distraught war veteran and husband who confronts racism not only from within the community but also from within his own kin.
Anna Kashfi (in real life, soon to become Marlon Brando’s ex-wife) plays Ginny’s cousin Maria Robbin, whose husband, Cy (Nat ‘King’ Cole), doles out rational advice on how to get Chuck away from the influence of his evil family.
Meanwhile, Ginny finds herself being sued by the Nelsons, who accuse her of having tricked Chuck into marrying a Negress.
Looks like miscegenation was such big news in those days that the case knocks the Cold War right off the front-page headlines.
In the courtroom, the question comes down to how Ginny can prove that Chuck knew she was part-black before they were married.
The solution is simple.
The judge (stage and silent era veteran Robert Warwick) is told that Ginny’s husband had seen her swimming naked. The accused then (partially) disrobes in front of the judge to show that she is the same color all over.
That moment alone is enough to turn Night of the Quarter Moon into a camp classic.
Despite the exploitative subject matter, Night of the Quarter Moon is capably directed by Hugo Haas, who was no stranger to lurid themes. Consider the titles of a few of his other films: One Girl’s Confession, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Bait, Born to Be Loved.
Besides, Haas and screenwriters Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (Oscar nominees for The Train, 1965) found intriguing ways to shock late-1950s audiences, even though today Night of the Quarter Moon is nothing more than a camp fest.
But an enjoyable one at that.
Night of the Quarter Moon (1959)
Director: Hugo Haas.
Screenplay: Frank Davis & Franklin Coen.
Cast: John Drew Barrymore. Julie London. Anna Kashfi. Dean Jones. Agnes Moorehead. Nat ‘King’ Cole. Jackie Coogan. Charles Chaplin Jr. Cathy Crosby. Billy Daniels. James Edwards. Ray Anthony. Edward Andrews. Arthur Shields. Robert Warwick. Marguerite Belafonte.
Online sources also list Frank Gorshin and George E. Stone in uncredited roles.
“Night of the Quarter Moon: London’s Steamy Cult Classic” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Night of the Quarter Moon (1959) Movie Review” notes
 In the Night of the Quarter Moon cast: John Barrymore and Dolores Costello’s son John Drew Barrymore, singers Julie London and Nat ‘King’ Cole, Marlon Brando’s then-wife Anna Kashfi, and (then) thee-time Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Agnes Moorehead.
Also: Future The Love Bug leading man Dean Jones, silent era chid actor Jackie Coogan (The Kid), Charles Chaplin and Lita Grey’s son Charles Chaplin Jr., Bing Crosby’s niece Cathy Crosby, stage and silent era veteran Robert Warwick, and Harry Belafonte’s ex-wife Marguerite Belafonte.
Of note, one of Agnes Moorehead’s Oscar nominations was for Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), in which Dolores Costello, in her final film appearance, has one of the leads.
“Night of the Quarter Moon Movie” endnotes
James Edwards, Julie London, and John Drew Barrymore Night of the Quarter Moon movie images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
“Night of the Quarter Moon: London’s Steamy Cult Classic” last updated in October 2021.