Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dead of Night (1945)

Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, 1945) British omnibus film from Ealing Studios where four stories of the bizarre are buttressed by a framing device of an architect (Mervyn Jones) invited to a country house that evokes an inescapable sense of déjà vu. At the house is a collection of strangers with odd stories: a race car driver who barely survives a crash and during a recovery has a strange dream involving a beckoning hearse and driver who says "just room for inside, sir"—a dream that has fateful repercussions later on; a girl (Sally Ann Howes) who recounts a strange encounter at a Christmas party; a woman who buys her fiancé an antiquated mirror with a mind—and a room—of its own; a whimsical tale of of two obsessed golf duffers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) who wager for the affections of a woman over a match; and the last, featuring a ventriloquist (a bravura performance by Michael Redgrave) whose dummy wants to change the act's billing.

Anyone familiar with "The Twilight Zone" will have their own distinct sense of déjà vu watching Dead of Night—the race-driving story is remarkably similar to a Bennet Cerf story that was adapted by Serling as "Twenty Two;" the Christmas story echoes others; the ventriloquist story has been dummied about several times and not just on TZ.  The stories have their own specific atmospheres that cling to their stories like shrouds, and Ealing proudly displays the collection of sets and artistry that made it one of the preeminent studios in Great Britain.

The stories are all decidedly set-bound with some quick outdoor scenes—it was wartime when the film was made and although the tone is fairly nightmarish (pluckily nightmarish), escapism from the rubble and the war news was the intent, and maybe a little tonic from "boogey-man-isms" by having a psychiatrist (Viennese, of course, played by Frederick Valk) popping the bubble of the story-tellers by trying to clinically explain things away.  It provides a fine counter-balance (and a bit of straight-faced comic relief) to the tales of the supernatural, with their underpinnings of hysteria and mental imbalance.  Fun, unsettling and meticulously done.

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