A young and wealthy heiress (Pamela Franklin) is sleeping on her flight to Paris when she is awoken by the stewardess (Rita Moreno) telling her to fasten her seat belt as the plane is landing. When she departs, the girl is met at the airport by her chauffeur (Marlon Brando), who drives her out into the French countryside; but when they take on a sinister passenger (Richard Boone), the girl realises that all is not well and she is being kidnapped. They change cars, meeting with the stewardess in the process, and head off to an isolated house by the beach where the sinister man tells the girl they just want the ransom money and no harm will come to her. But he's not telling the whole truth...
Scripted by the director Hubert Cornfield and Robert Phippeny, The Night of the Following Day is best remembered for the twist that rounds off the action - or the cheat that rounds off the action, if you prefer. Did they devise the ending first? It's a curious thriller, with its gang of kidnappers falling out and falling prey to their own character defects, and as the film draws on they grow more important to carrying the story than the unnamed girl, who is kept locked up in an upstairs bedroom for most of the time. Perhaps appropriately, there's a vague, nebulous air that encompasses the kidnappers' plottings, which despite its lack of an apparent hook to catch the viewer's imagination, becomes strangely hypnotic.
As the chauffeur, Bud, a blond Brando is the ostensible leader of the gang, but he's having second thoughts and is impatient to wait for the plan to come to fruition; Brando is undoubtedly blessed with star power, but doesn't have much to work with here, only occasionally letting his panic rise to the surface (he said he only made the film for the money). His main rival is the burly, untrustworthy "Leer", with Boone putting in the most charismatic performance, a possible psychopath who jeopardises the plan when he decides to take matters into his own hands and has unhealthy designs on the girl, making her fear him the most - and with good reason.
Moreno (another blonde) is Bud's girlfriend, who has a problem with drugs and alcohol, leading Bud to believe that she will mess up somewhere along the way, when in fact the lack of trust between the gang will result in disaster. The other kidnapper is the stewardess's brother (Jess Hahn), who seems like the most sympathetic as he complains that he doesn't want to live like a petty criminal anymore, and desperately wants the money. But it's pointed out that the girl would have no trouble identifying every single one of them, meaning that the more you think about it, the less professional these criminals appear, although Leer tells the girl the opposite.
The chilly, cheerless surroundings mean there's not an ounce of humour to be found, and the windswept beach in particular is a marvellous location, evoking loneliness and even desolation. As the kidnapping is headline news across France, the gang gradually catch the attention of a fishing policeman, who is initially friendly, but adds to the feeling of paranoia. The earlier scenes resemble a rehearsal, with the actors trying their characters on for size, yet as suspicion replaces their confidence the plan, which collapses before your very eyes, is central to the movie's intrigue. The Night of the Following Day may be slow paced, and then there's that ending, which presumably means you have to watch the film all over again, but it has a certain glacial charm that helps it stay with you, although not as much as it does with Franklin's girl. Music by Stanley Myers.