Fright Night

1. Ayn Rand’s play Night of January 16th is a dramatised trial with two endings, depending on whether the audience votes for the guilt or innocence of the protagonist, Karen Andre. As originally written, Andre when declared guilty announces:

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you. You have spared me the trouble of committing suicide.

Night of January 16th

Toward the end of her life, Rand made some revisions to the play in connection with a revived stage performance. Most of the changes were apparently minor, but one was not: Andre’s last line, in the event of being found guilty, is now:

Ladies and gentlemen, I will not be here to serve the sentence. I have nothing to seek in your world.

And this is the ending that currently appears in Night of January 16th: The Final Revised Version and Ayn Rand: Three Plays.

I think this change is unfortunate; the original strikes me as more dramatic and poetic. Rand may have changed it to reflect the fact that under changes in New York law, Andre would no longer have been eligible for the death penalty. But if so, that’s an oddly naturalistic reason for the change, and the play doesn’t plausibly update to a more contemporary setting anyway.

But my real gripe is not just that Rand changed the ending, but that the original line is getting lost down a memory hole. Nowhere in the current published versions of the play is there any information as to what the original line was: not in a footnote or appendix or anything. This seems to be yet another case of the Rand estate’s mishandling of her writings.

2. I’ve never seen the entire movie version (1941) of Night of January 16th. I watched about ten minutes of it once and couldn’t keep my attention on it. Rand once wrote of the film:

There is nothing of mine in that movie, except the names of some of the characters and the title (which was not mine). The only line of dialogue from my play which appears in the movie is: “The court will now adjourn till ten o’clock tomorrow morning.” The cheap, trashy vulgarity of that movie is such that no lengthier discussion is possible to me.

So I’m guessing she didn’t like it.

Judging from this synopsis, the movie’s connection with the original play is indeed tenuous. But what struck me in the synopsis is something I’ve never seen mentioned before: that a “statuette of Atlas supporting a globe” plays a crucial role in the film’s plot (which it certainly does not in the play). Given that Rand hadn’t started writing Atlas Shrugged at that time, it’s an intriguing connection.

2 Responses to Fright Night

  1. Michael R. Brown July 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Absolutely intriguing – thank you. I’ve often wondered why more people interested in Rand have not dug out a copy of the movie and done a study of it. I wonder if it is available in any way?

    • Roderick July 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

      There’s no official dvd release, but I’ve seen pirated dvds advertised online.

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