Movies

Dead Of Night (Ealing 1945, Michael Redgrave, Mervyn Johns)

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Dead Of Night is Ealing’s classic portmanteau horror film whose separate stories were linked by a central framing story. It was a format that was to inspire such films as Torture Garden and Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors but still remains the best of this horror film genre.

The film opens with architect MERVYN JOHNS summoned to a farmhouse where, meeting host ROLAND CULVER and the other guests for the first time, realises they are characters from a recurring nightmare. Psychiatrist FREDERICK VALK is sceptical but the others have strange stories to tell…

Racing driver ANTHONY BAIRD narrowly escapes death after an encounter with a mysterious hearse; teenager SALLY ANN HOWES, playing hide-and-seek in a country house, comes across a weeping child; GOOGIE WITHERS tells how a mysterious mirror reflects back a Victorian room while the lighter touch is provided by BASIL RADFORD and NAUNTON WAYNE (The Lady Vanishes) who are rivals in golf and for PEGGY RYAN’s hand that leads to haunting…

But the best is saved to last as MICHAEL REDGRAVE plays the ventriloquist who is coming more and more deranged under the influence of his evil, ambitious dummy – until he commits murder. Viewers were astonished at the life-like movements of the dummy – in fact, Cavalcanti expertly edited between the dummy and made-up JOHN MAGUIRE, at 25 just four foot tall, with one of Redgrave’s most impressive performances distracting the viewer. And finally the story returns to the farmhouse where murder and a twist in the tail await…

In 1968 Pauline Kael said ‘The five ghost stories accumulate in intensity until the trap closes in the surrealist climax.’

Dead Of Night

Mervyn Johns tells his story…

UK / Ealing / 104 minutes / 1945 filmed in black and white

Writers: John Baines, Angus McPhail, T E B Clarke from stories by H G Wells, E F Benson, John Baines, Angus McPhail / Music: George Auric / Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe, Stan Pavey / Producer: Michael Balcon / Directors: Basil Dearden (The Linking Story, The Hearse Driver); Alberto Cavalcanti (The Christmas Story, The Ventriloquist’s Dummy); Robert Hamer (The Haunted Mirror); Charles Crichton (The Golfing Story)

Cast: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall (The Linking Story); Anthony Baird, Judy Kelly (The Hearse Driver); Sally Ann Howes, Michael Allan (The Christmas Story); Googie Withers, Ralph Michael (The Haunted Mirror); Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne (The Golfing Story); Michael Redgrave, Hartley Power (The Ventriloquist’s Dummy)