Thursday, 26 August 2010

Endless Night (1972)

When you talk bout horror chances are that Agatha Christie is not the first author whose name springs to mind. Nonetheless, the 1972 movie version of her novel Endless Night can be considered a horror movie.

In fact it’s a psychological horror thriller, very much in the style of Hammer’s early 1960s psycho-thrillers such as Paranoiac.

Agatha Christie adaptations from this era were usually somewhat bloated efforts overloaded with superannuated stars. This one is quite different. The cast is quite interested. Hayley Mills (in one of her relatively rare appearances as an adult after her career started to falter), Hywel Bennett and Britt Ekland are the main stars. The supporting cast features some interesting faces including George Sanders in one of his last screen appearances (he had committed suicide by the time the movie was released) and Peter Bowles (a favourite actor of mine mostly familiar from his extensive TV work).

Hywel Bennett is Mike, a chauffeur who dreams of one day being wealthy enough to build a luxury house on a site he has fallen in love with called Gypsy’s Acres, and to fill it with beautiful works of art. While wandering about this place lost in his day-dreams he encounters a pretty young American named Ellie (Hayley Mills). The attraction is immediate. An obstacle arises to the romance when Mike discovers that Ellie is rich. Very rich indeed. In fact the 6th richest girl in the world. She manages to persuade him that it doesn’t matter, that true love is all that counts, and they marry.

Her family are not at all happy. The family lawyer (George Sanders) tries to buy him off. But Ellie pays for the building of Mike’s dream house, and he is able to get his eccentric architect friend to supervise the project. Another potential obstacle is Greta (Britt Ekland). She’s been acting as a kind of paid companion to Ellie but she seems to be regarded with suspicion by all and sundry and she and Mike do not hit it off.

Up to this point we have a romantic melodrama but of course things are about to change dramatically, tragically and unexpectedly.

This is extremely unusual for a Christie adaptation in that it relies mostly on character and mood rather than being plot-driven. The source novel was unusual in itself in not featuring any of Christie’s well-known fictional detectives. If you’re waiting for Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple to show up to solve the case you will wait in vain.

This movie does not seem to be all that highly regarded. This may be because it doesn’t fit neatly into the crime genre and doesn’t have enough gore and violence to satisfy horror fans. In fact there is no gore whatsoever. I find out to be quite entertaining nonetheless. The pacing is a little slow in the first half but I think that’s a strength rather than a weakness. This is a movie where you need to get to know the characters.

Hayley Mills had been not merely a child star but possibly the best child actress of all time, but by the 70s her career had taken a major downturn. Watching her in this movie it’s difficult to understand why this happened. Her performance is extremely good (even if her American accent is a bit iffy). There aren’t really any standout performances, but there also aren’t any weak performances. Yes, even Britt Ekland is quite competent.

The PAL Region 2/Region 4 DVD release is disappointingly lacking in extras but the picture quality is fine.

With veteran director Sidney Gilliat at the helm, and with a score by Bernard Herrmann and what appears to have been a reasonably generous budget this is quite a classy production. It’s a low-key sort of film, but if you don’t set your expectations unrealistically high it’s thoroughly enjoyable.


Neil Fulwood said...

I remember the novel being very difficult to the average Agatha Christie mystery - a character-based psychological drama with a humdinger of an ending rather than the usual locked room mystery/process of elimination sleuthing narrative.

I'd heard of the film, but had no idea Gilliat directed it, much less that the cast is so impressive. I'll definitely make a point of tracking this one down.

Will Errickson said...

Just watched this on Netflix Instant and quite enjoyed it, despite my unfamiliarity with the Christie novel. It *can* be considered something of a horror movie. I loved the vintage '70s vibe of it, the unexpected twist, and most of all, the utterly loverly Hayley Mills, all grown up! Also I read it was never released in the United States.