From the video case: Sir Michael Redgrave stars as the host of a chilling gathering in a remote country house. His guests are strangers, people of whom he has dreamed, people whose lives are intricately bound by forces no one can understand. It’s an unusual and wonderfully frightening tale that cleverly intertwines logical tricks of magic with inexplicable acts from unseen powers.
Mark says: As more often than not, the video case description is not entirely accurate. Eliot Foley (Roland Culver) is the actual host of the gathering (not Redgrave), and it is the guest, Mervyn Johns (The Day of the Triffids) as architect Walter Craig who has dreamed of all the other characters.
Dead of Night is actually an anthology of six stories rolled into one. First is the overall tale which serves as the linking narrative. Within this tale are five other tales told by the various guests. The sequences are based on stories by renowned British authors such as H. G. Wells and E. F. Benson. Each tale has its own director.
I’ll briefly discuss each of the six stories below:
The Overall Story (linking narrative): Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is baffled to find himself among a group of strangers who have been starring in his recurring nightmares. The guests respond to Mr. Craig’s story by relating their own extraordinary experiences.
Frederick Valk plays the skeptic, Dr. Van Straaten, who counters each seemingly paranormal story with a logical explanation. Ironically, it is Dr. Van Straaten who tells the most chilling tale.
Hearse Driver: A wonderful little tale of premonition as told by Mr.Grainger (Anthony Baird). Fits in well with the overall atmosphere and theme of the movie.
Christmas Party: A rather mediocre ghost story as told by the guest Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes). Sally recalls a Christmas party where she encountered the ghost of a young boy. It’s quite predictable, and of all the stories, seems the most dated.
The Haunted Mirror: Ralph Michael (Children of the Damned) plays Peter Cortland, a man who comes to possess a haunted mirror. Eventually, the history of the mirror takes possession of him. Googie Withers plays his wife, Joan. I have to admit, this story spooked me upon first viewing.
Golfing Story: A silly bit of tripe about two friends who play a game of golf to win the hand of a woman they both love. The loser decides to kill himself, but returns to haunt his partner when it is discovered that he cheated. This sequence is used to break the tension, I suppose, but I think the movie would be better without it. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne star as the golfers, and Peggy Bryan plays Mary, the object of their affections.
The Ventriloquist’s Dummy: This is by far the most interesting and chilling tale of the lot. Michael Redgrave (The Innocents) is Maxwell Frere, a ventriloquist tormented by his own dummy. The plot seems familiar today (thanks to a famous Twilight Zone episode, and the Child’s Play movies) but was certainly ahead of its time in 1945. Great direction by Alberto Cavalcanti and an astonishing performance by Mr. Redgrave propel this tale head and shoulders above the rest. Does anyone else notice a similarity between Maxwell Frere and and Psycho‘s Norman Bates?
The movie’s finale is a bizarre collage of all the tales mixed together in a nightmarish fashion, as Mr. Craig races helter-skelter to his destiny. Quite avant-garde for the time and genre.
Dead of Night would rank even higher with me except two of the tales (“Christmas Party” and “Golfing Story”) drag the average down a notch. Still, this movie deserves its classic status, and Michael Redgrave’s performance alone makes it worth your time.
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (“Christmas Party” and “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”), Charles Crichton (“Golfing Story”), Basil Dearden (“Hearse Driver” and “Linking Narrative”), and Robert Hamer (“The Haunted Mirror”).
Scene to watch for: Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) sits in his cell and works a puppet that’s not there. Very creepy.
Line to listen for: “Just room for one inside, sir.”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.