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|Dead of Night|
American theatrical release poster
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
by H.G. Wells, John Baines, E.F. Benson, Angus MacPhail
|Music by||Carl W. Stalling|
|Edited by||Charles Hasse|
|Distributed by||Eagle-Lion Films (UK) Universal Pictures (US)|
Dead of Night is a 1945 British anthology horror film, made by Ealing Studios. The individual segments were directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. It stars Mervyn Johns, Googie Withers, Sally Ann Howes and Michael Redgrave. The film is most remembered for the concluding story, which features Redgrave and concerns a ventriloquist's malevolent dummy.
Dead of Night stands out from British films of the 1940s, when few horror films were being produced there (horror films had been banned from production in Britain during the war). It had an influence on subsequent British films in the genre. Both of John Baines' stories were recycled for later films and the possessed ventriloquist dummy episode was adapted into the pilot 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 German-accented psychologist, 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 announced by a mysterious man who says "room for one more inside, sir", a ghostly encounter during a children's Christmas party (a tale cut from the initial US release), a haunted antique mirror, a light-hearted tale of two obsessed golfers, one of whom becomes haunted by the other's ghost (also cut from the initial US 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.
(Directed by Basil Dearden)
(Directed by Robert Hamer; story by John Baines)
Parratt and Potter, as portrayed by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne in the golfing story, are derivative of the characters Charters and Caldicott from Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). The double-act proved to be popular enough that Radford and Wayne were paired up as similar sport-obsessed English gentlemen (or occasionally reprising their original roles) in a number of productions, including this one. The name change neatly sidestepped any copyright issues.
(Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; story by John Baines)
Dead of Night was released in the United States on 9 September 1945.
According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed well at the British box office in 1945.
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." 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". The review commented on Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne for "providing excellent comic relief". 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". Film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 4 out of a possible 4 stars.
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.
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.Dead of Night placed at number 35 on their top 100 list. Director Martin Scorsese placed Dead of Night on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time. Writer/director Christopher Smith was inspired by the circular narrative in Dead of Night when making his 2009 film Triangle.
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 theme of a mirror casting a murderous spell has been visited in other works and media: