Dead of Night (1945)

March 26th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton | Cast: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Google Withers, Mary Merrall, Frederick Valk | UK Horror 113′

The biggest mystery connected with Dead of Night is why the studio never made another film like it (Basil Dearden had recently made the literally haunting wartime fantasy The Halfway House; but apart from the multi-story film Train of Events and the spooky anecdote The Night My Number Came Up that was it).

Made by Ealing Studios with individual segments directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, the drama centres on architect Walter Craig (Johns) who has arrived at a country house party in Kent to offer the owner, Elliot Foley (Culver), renovation advice. Craig soon realises he has seen the guests in a recurring dream despite never having met any of them, and senses impending doom as his half-remembered recurring nightmare turns to reality. The guests encourage him to stay as they take turns telling their own supernatural tales.

My personal favourite episode is Robert Hamer’s The Haunted Mirror (I found myself avoiding mirrors for a while after my mother died in case I saw her in them); while Hitchcock plainly lifted the final close-up of Michael Redgrave that concludes the ventriloquist’s dummy episode for the end of Psycho.

Unlike most commentators I rather like the episode about the golfers; especially as it’s always a pleasure to see Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne whatever they’re in. I agree however with Carlos Clarens, who dismissed the ‘official’ ending as “a final farandole which mixed all the stories together”; but consider the repetition of the opening sequence under the closing credits inspired. Since Walter Craig states earlier on that he’s never told anybody else about his dream, the seldom remarked upon comment by his wife that closes the film (underscored by Craig’s disconcertingly slowed-down reaction shot as he draws on a cigarette) gives the lie to that claim, and more than forty years after I first saw it I still haven’t figured out what it’s implications are…¬©Richard Chatten

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