World by Night was one of many documentary features filmed during the 1960s in the night clubs of the world. A foyer card from the film depicts a Polynesian floor show at a night club somewhere. We could be in Honolulu, Hollywood, Tokyo or Hong Kong – the difficulty in determining the location is an indicator of the ‘extra-national’ dimensions of night club entertainment at the time.
An advertisement for the Lee and Princess Theatres in Hong Kong describes World by Night as ‘A breath-taking galaxy of the most celebrated cabaret and night-club performers of New York, Paris, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Hamburg, Hong Kong, London, Hollywood, Honolulu, Copenhagen’ (China Mail, 20 February 1961, p.5).
The film was made as Il Mondo di Notte and first released in Italy in April 1960. It was directed by Luigi Vanzi and produced by Francesco Mazzei for Julia Film. Along with Alessandro Blasetti’s Europa di Notte of 1959, it is regarded as precursor to the genre of mondo film, which emerged with the success of Mondo Cane in 1962.
Vanzi filmed at night clubs in Europe, America and Asia. The database at the British Film Institute gives credits for production assistants from the USA, Japan, China, Germany, England and France. The cast includes: Alfredo’s Alaria’s Ballets Macumba, the Bluebell Girls, the Tiller Girls, performers from the Queen Bee Cabaret (of Tokyo), Chinese Opera of Hongkong, Tahiti Ballet and Wee Willie Harris. The narrator for the English language version is Larry Cross.
The film arrived in New York on circuit release in January 1962. A reviewer for the New York Times records that the film depicts acts from Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, Sammy’s Bowery Follies (also in New York) and Tokyo’s Queen Bee Club, and that the film opens and closes with scenes from the Lido in Paris, notably a ‘Brazilian Love Dance’. There is also a ‘Las Vegas chapter and a birdseye view of the streets and casinos along the Gold Coast’ (presumably, Miami).
Producer Francesco Mazzei followed the world-wide success of the film with Il Mondo di Notte N. 2 in 1961 and Il Mondo di Notte N. 3 (also known as This Shocking World) in 1963. English versions of the films were distributed by Warner Brothers. In February, 1962, the Straits Times of Singapore reported that:
World by Night No. 2, a cinematographic Cook’s tour of night life in the world’s leading cities – now being screened in Kuala Lumpur – included Singapore in its title credits but not one scene of Singapore appeared on the screen.
A spokesman for Warner Brothers said today that it had been decided to delete the Singapore sequence “because it was not too flattering to Singapore.” However, in cutting the film, the editor had overlooked the question of amending the title credits.
A camera crew stopped over in Singapore two years ago to shoot night scenes, presumably for this film. One of the shots showed a bevy of girls in sarongs doing a parody of the hula hula.
There were many films in the ‘by night’ genre which featured entertainers from night clubs and revues around the world. Those screening at cinemas in Hong Kong during the 1960s include:
- World by Night (February 1961)
- Hot World by Night (April 1962)
- European Nights (November 1962)
- World by Night No. 2 (February 1962)
- America by Night (March 1962)
- World by Night No. 1 and 2 Combined (March 1963)
- Universe by Night (September 1963)
- World by Night No. 3 (September 1964)
- Beauties by Night (October 1964)
I have searched the catalogues of some film archives, but have yet to determine if any of these films are available. Last year I bought some foyer cards with scenes from World by Night. But the pictures don’t have captions. Do you recognise the venue or any of the performers? Did you see one of these films?
- World by Night, advertisement, Lee and Princess Theatres, Hong Kong, China Mail, 20 February 1961, p.5.
- ‘Screen: ‘World by Night’:Color Cameras Scan Night-Club and Cabaret Acts on Three Continents’, New York Times, 11 Jan 1962.
- ‘Singapore scenes ‘Not too flattering’, Straits Times, 13 Feb 1962, p.9
- Pictures and advertising from Europa di Notte, 1959, via YouTube.