Friday, November 21, 2014

Nothing But the Night (1973)

          Marketed as a horror movie, presumably because of the involvement of Hammer Films veterans Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Nothing But the Night is really more of a whodunit with a supernatural angle. It’s also not particularly coherent or interesting, although the picture includes some atmospheric location photography during an extended chase scene that takes place in Scotland.
          The disjointed story begins with vignettes featuring violent deaths, culminating in the crash of a tour bus carrying dozens of children and adults. One of the survivors is young Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong), ward of a charitable trust that runs a home for girls from troubled families. Following the crash, Mary ends up in a hospital under the care of physicians including Sir Mark Ashley (Cushing), who, at the urging of a colleague, investigates Mary’s background. Concurrently, police detective Charles Bingham (Lee) examines whether the earlier deaths are connected to the crash. Charles believes that Mary might be capable of providing key information. Making the already-murky story unnecessarily convoluted is the presence of Mary’s biological mother, a deranged ex-prostitute named Anna Harb (Diana Dors). After being contacted by a representative from the hospital, Anna becomes obsessed with seeing Mary, who was taken away from her by authorities three years previous. Observing a fraught mother/daughter encounter causes Sir Mark to embrace the odd notion that Anna and Mary share some sort of psychic link, and that the psychic link relates to the mysterious deaths. Whatever.
          Following the plot of Nothing But the Night is an arduous and ultimately pointless endeavor, because the movie slowly spirals from an intricate conspiracy story to a trite race-against-time melodrama. That said, Nothing but the Night has strong production values, occasional thrills, and lively acting. Cushing is terrific, likely savoring the opportunity to play a normal human being instead of someone extreme, and Dors is a holy terror as Anna, all mile-high hair and whorish makeup. Lee is less impressive, his character’s inner machinations hidden too deeply behind a stiff-upper-lip façade, and costar Georgia Brown, who plays a pushy journalist, is merely adequate. (Future Harry Potter star Michael Gambon shows up in a small role, as well.) The violent ending of Nothing But the Night—which vaguely resembles the climax of another 1973 British release, The Wicker Man—is something of a cheat, but at least the finale has energy, which is more than can be said for much of this middling effort.

Nothing But the Night: FUNKY


Unknown said...

I remember this! The story behind this is probably more interesting than the actual movie. Lee co-produced this and was evidently looking for a new horror angle, and went with this story about a cult trying to extend their lives into new bodies. It's a shame this movie did not turn out better, since the key gimmick is certainly a sinister one.

Tommy Ross said...

Peter, you're on fire lately, I can't believe some of these titles you're posting, Right on!!

Will Errickson said...

But is the movie better or worse than the cover art of the novel it was based on?

John Saunders said...

Diana Dors must be one of the biggest 'red herrings' ever!!!