Dead of Night
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Dead of Night
Dead of Night
American film poster
Directed by
Produced by Michael Balcon
Screenplay by
Based on Stories
by H.G. Wells, John Baines, E.F. Benson, Angus MacPhail
Music by Georges AuricMa
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Charles Hasse
Distributed by Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited[2]
Release date
  • September 4, 1945 (1945-09-04)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Dead of Night is a 1945 British anthology horror film (a gothic or horror anthology) made by Ealing Studios; the individual stories were directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. The film stars Mervyn Johns, Googie Withers, Sally Ann Howes and Michael Redgrave. The film is probably best-remembered for the ventriloquist's dummy episode with Redgrave.

Dead of Night stands out from British film of the 1940s, when few horror films were being produced in the country (horror films had been banned from production in Britain during the war), and it had an influence on subsequent British films in the genre. Both of the segments by John Baines were recycled for later films, and the possessed ventriloquist dummy episode was adapted as the audition episode of the long-running CBS radio series Escape.


Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) wakes up after a terrible nightmare, which leads his wife to suggest to him that he spend a weekend in the country. Craig has been invited by Elliot Foley (Roland Culver) to his country home in Kent to consult on some renovations. Upon arrival at the cottage, he reveals to Foley and his assembled guests that despite never having met any of them, he has seen them all in a recurring dream.

He appears to have no prior personal knowledge of them but he is able to predict spontaneous events in the house before they unfold. Craig partially recalls with some dismay that something awful will later occur, and becomes increasingly disturbed. Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk), a psychologist who speaks with a German accent in particular tries to persuade Craig that his fears are unfounded. The other guests attempt to test Craig's foresight and set him at ease, while entertaining each other with various tales of uncanny or supernatural events that they experienced or were told about.

These include a racing car driver's premonition of a fatal bus crash and then an elevator crash announced by a mysterious man who says "There's always room for one more"; a ghostly encounter during a children's Christmas party (a tale cut from the initial USA release); a haunted antique mirror; a light-hearted tale of two obsessed golfers, one of whom becomes haunted by the other's ghost (another cut from the initial USA release); and the story of an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believes his amoral dummy is truly alive.

The framing story is then capped by a twist ending in which Craig murders one of the guests, then escapes into a feverish montage of scenes and characters from the house guests' tales. At the climax, the dummy Hugo is strangling him when Craig suddenly wakes up at home from the nightmare to the sound of a phone ringing. The phone call is from Elliot Foley, inviting him to his country home to consult on some renovations. As the end credits roll, Craig is again driving up to Foley's cottage, exactly as in the film's opening, seemingly doomed to repeat the same nightmarish cycle over and over again for the rest of his life.


Linking narrative

(directed by Basil Dearden)

Hearse Driver sequence

(directed by Basil Dearden; based on "The Bus-Conductor", a short story by E. F. Benson published in The Pall Mall Magazine in 1906)

  • Anthony Baird as Hugh Grainger
  • Judy Kelly as Joyce Grainger
  • Miles Malleson as Hearse Driver / Bus Conductor
  • Robert Wyndham as Dr. Albury

Christmas Party sequence

(directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; story by Angus MacPhail)

  • Michael Allan as Jimmy Watson
  • Sally Ann Howes as Sally O'Hara
  • Barbara Leake as Mrs O'Hara

Haunted Mirror sequence

(directed by Robert Hamer; story by John Baines)

Golfing Story sequence

(directed by Charles Crichton; based on a story by H.G. Wells)

Parratt and Potter, the very-English characters portrayed by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne in the Golfing Story are derivatives of Charters and Caldicott, created for Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). The double-act proved to be so popular that Radford and Wayne were paired up as similar sport-obsessed gentlemen (or occasionally reprising their original rôles) in a number of productions, including this one. The name-change neatly sidestepped any copyright issues.[]

Ventriloquist's Dummy sequence

(directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; story by John Baines)


Dead of Night was released in the United States on September 9, 1945.[3]


Box Office

According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed well at the British box office in 1945.[4]

Critical reception

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 96%, based on , with a rating average of 8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "With four accomplished directors contributing, Dead of Night is a classic horror anthology that remains highly influential."[5] From a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin praised the tale of the ventriloquist stating that it was "perhaps the best" and that it was perhaps Cavalcanti's "most polished work for many years".[2] The review commented on Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne for "providing excellent comic relief".[2] The review concluded that art direction (Michael Relph), lighting (Stan Pavey and Douglas Slocombe) and editing (Charles Hassey) combine to make the smoothest film yet to come from an English studio".[2] Film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 4 out of a possible 4 stars.[6]


The circular plot of Dead of Night inspired Fred Hoyle's Steady State model of the universe, developed in 1948.[7]Mario Livio in Brilliant Blunders cites the impact of a viewing of Dead of Night had on astrophysicists Fred Hoyle, Herman Bondi, and Thomas Gold. "Gold asked suddenly, "What if the universe is like that?' meaning that the universe could be eternally circling on itself without beginning or end. Unable to dismiss this conjecture, they started to think seriously of an unchanging universe, a steady state universe. Dead of Night currently holds a 96% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films.[8]Dead of Night placed at number 35 on their top 100 list.[9] Director Martin Scorsese placed Dead of Night on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[10] Writer/Director Christopher Smith was inspired by the circular narrative in Dead of Night when making his 2009 film Triangle.[11]


The theme of a recurring nightmare has been visited in other works and media:

The theme of the mad ventriloquist has been visited in other works and media:

The theme of the fatal crash premonition has also been visited in other works and media:

  • "The Bus-Conductor", a short story by E. F. Benson published in The Pall Mall Magazine in 1906 which was the basis for the segment in Dead of Night
  • Famous Ghost Stories, a 1944 anthology by Bennett Cerf which retells the Benson short story but changes the main character to a woman and transfers the action to New York City
  • "Twenty Two", a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone inspired by the Cerf story

The theme of a mirror casting a murderous spell has been visited in other works and media:

See also



  1. ^ "Dead of Night (Original)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d K.F.B (1945). "Entertainment Films". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 12 no. 141. British Film Institute. p. 105. 
  3. ^ Blaise, Judd. "Dead of Night". AllMovie. Retrieved 2016. 
  4. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p 208
  5. ^ "Dead of Night 91945) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2016. 
  6. ^ Leonard Maltin (29 September 2015). Turner Classic Movies Presents Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965: Third Edition. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-698-19729-9. 
  7. ^ Jane Gregory, Fred Hoyle's Universe, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-850791-7, pp.36-7
  8. ^ "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 2014. 
  9. ^ NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved 2014. 
  10. ^ Scorsese, Martin (28 October 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2009. 
  11. ^ "Director Chris Smith on Triangle". Retrieved 2012. 


  • Jerry Vermilye The Great British Films, 1978, Citadel Press, pp 85-87, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
  • Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates "Devil's Advocates: Dead of Night", 2015, Auteur, ISBN 978-0993238437

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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