|Index||8 reviews in total|
For a film of absolutely no reputation, with zero out of four in
Halliwell's, directed by a man regarded with as much respect as Ed Wood,
this Gothic psychodrama is really rather good. I'm not suggesting that
in any way a classic - the acting , if I may say so under IMDb guidelines,
is indifferent, the pacing in the second half is less than exciting - but
far as scope, subject matter and ambition are concerned, there are few
low-budget British films to match it. Imagine a more modestly skilled
admirer trying to make a B-movie Powell and Pressburger film replacing
genius with added hysteria, then you've some idea of this amazing
The film opens at a febrile pitch, and barely relents. The opening credits, accompanied by a highly strung score, features Gothic tableaux that give a grotesque precis of the subsequent story - distorted, sharp-edged follies with witchlike fingers, ancient houses, Leroux-like organs, frenzied screams, rabid religious imagery.
The action proper begins in a church, the departing congregation unaccountably demanding the removal from the village of a young woman, Emmie, who remains behind praying. The irrational hatred in their demands is shocking - all we can glean is the supposed effect on men. Two spinster matrons demand her exile from a priest who seems neurotically ragged, probably because of his lust for the girl, who is meanwhile playing a dismally murmuring lament on the organ, having some sort of psychosomatic fit. This is a sequence of remarkable Franju-like beauty, Siobhan MacKenna's fragile, quivering mask evoking great sorrow and distress.
The picture of gentle innocence, it's difficult to see what danger anyone sees in Emmie, but so loaded have been both the accusations and the relentless style, that we shudder when she bends down to talk with a little, shaking girl, who has been warned off by her mother. When Emmie offers her flowers, there is an ominous FRANKENSTEINish (James Whale) frisson, but her mother, terrified, reefs her away, and brings her into a shop. A circus has set up tent nearby, and one of its members, a boxer Dan, has watched this scene, kicks the shop's door down, and asks Emmie to watch him fight tonight. She coyly agrees.
Besotted with lust, Dan turns what is supposed to be a fixed match into a farrago to impress Emmie. They later enjoy themselves throughout the fair, and we see Emmie happy for the first time. The pair venture to a quiet space just outside the fairground. Dan's intentions are clear, but when Emmie professes innocence, he turns nasty. In the next shot we see a petrified Emmie running through the fair, followed by Dan, whose eye has received a violent wound.
The priest succumbs to the public pressure, and sends Emmie to stay in England with a wealthy landowner, Mr. Tallent. She fits in well enough, but one daughter, Bess, views Emmie with an hostility even she can't explain, although intensified by the effect a much more brazen Emmie seems to have on the men folk. One day, Dan's circus comes into town, and Dan reimposes himself on Emmie. We see his injury, a loathsome scratch gashing his eye. He determines to avenge himself on Emmie, and chases her to an isolated barn. Later Emmie is found by her employer running home dazed. The next morning Dan is found dead. (The film isn't even halfway there by this stage!)
DARKNESS is considered notable as the first in-depth treatment of a female serial-killer, but it is much more than that. On an abstract level, Emmie is an embodiment of the Id, the unconscious desires that, if acted on, could result in the destruction of civilised society. This nearly happens as the women intuit, and Emmie is a remarkably subversive presence, linked to the carnivalesque, fairground atmosphere, all the more powerful in that she doesn't seem to understand her own power.
In the conservative societies she disturbs, sex is linked to fertility, reproduction, continuity and the land - Emmie offers a destructive opposite, all-consuming, disruptive and fatal. This allegory is heightened by conscience, the only bind on the Unconscious, here an almost supernatural Alsation that preys on Emmie (a pun on prey and pray pervades the film).
The resolution of this problem might seem reactionary, if it wasn't for the fact that Emmie is so sympathetically portrayed, and her malady is never explained away, its inexplicability making it all the more disturbing; while her enemies are repulsive, intolerant, in both societies becoming a lynch mob.
The film's abstract elements are matched by very real traumas - that of a parentless (she is a daughter of darkness; she calls the very disturbed priest Father, he calls her child) young girl, hounded and lonely in strange lands; class issues (the demonisation of a working class girl by her aristocratic employers), as well as being a returning of the Irish repressed on a complacent, historically amnesiac England (and a new Ireland that is beginning to repeat its repressions).
The portrayal of Emmie's disturbed mind is given a Romantic/Gothic framework (her only peace is facing the ocean on a lonely crag) that is very reminiscent of the Archers. Lance Comfort may not be a 'good' director in the conventional sense, but his seeming fausses pas contribute to the film's disorientating effect. He even pulls off the old heroine trapped by shadow of barred staircase shot with a vivid tangibility not even the great noir directors could quite manage. He follows this with that noir scene's seeming antithesis, a sun-dappled, pastoral idyll, site perhapse of Emmie's rebirth, except for one, very natural shadow, of a gate, with bars. Comfort's use of Gothic and animal imagery as well as some chilling ghost-story effects (see Emmie run away from Dan to the barn, or the whole organ playing sequence), are brilliantly successful.
This is a little known movie but one undeserving of the obscurity into
which it has fallen ,throwing,as it does , a sharp light on the narrow
mindedness and pettiness of small ,enclosed and isolated communities
.The opening sequence is especially gripping and commands attention
from the word go.It takes place in a church in a small ,backwater Irish
community where the local women break off from their gossip to eye with
undisguised loathing a younger woman ,Emily Beaudine (Siobahn
Mckenna).She has the reputation of being a siren ,a temptress able to
turn the heads of the men of the village .In a scene between herself
and the local priest it is hinted strongly that he too feels an
attraction towards Emily .To add to the miasma of gloom and oppression
,she is a talented organist but one with a fondness for the tonally
darker and more plangent aspects of the instrument's tonal pallete .
She is isolated within her community and young girl's warned not to
associate with her .When a fair visits the village she receives the
unwanted attention of Dan ,a boxer employed by the fir ,and she wounds
him in self defence .She is sent away to england where she ingratiates
herself with the Talent family ,until the return of Dan and the
suspicion of the eldest Talent sister Beth precipitates the final
Lance Comfort directs with fine use of light and shade and good use of some neat monochrome photography .The script leaves open the issue of Emily's true nature giving a pleasing ambiguity to proceedings and the fine ,intense performance of Siobahn Mckenna makes her relatively sparse engagement with the movies a matter to be regretted
This is no masterpiece but it is a subtle ,ambiguous picture that should be better known
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Emmie, a chaste young serving girl, is driven out of her small Irish
village by the womenfolk who hate and fear the effect she has on men.
The parish priest, giving in to prejudice, finds her a position with a
family in rural England but the same revulsion women feel in her
presence, combined with mens' lust, lead the child-like girl to take
revenge until (Divine?) intervention brings the sad, sinister story to
a shocking conclusion.
This movie amounts to a very subtle horror film in that the viewer never sees Emmie kill. A number of men are found dead after going off with her and, no doubt, the girl is responsible -but is she a succubus? A serial killer? Emmie, as portrayed by Siobhan (pronounced "She-vahn") McKenna (resembling a sensual Agnes Moorehead), seems to be the embodiment of "Original Sin" with the supernatural sex powers of a Lilith and she is eventually "hounded" to death a la the Biblical Jezebel. Based on the play "They Walk Alone" by Max Catto, the storyline is similar to Val Lewton's superstitious CAT PEOPLE in that sex (and the fear of it) can wreak havoc. Here, lust -and the ability to arouse it- are evil and, like Eve in the Bible, temptation has to be driven out. The way the young girl is persecuted is not unlike what happened during the Salem witch trials and the poor thing evokes audience sympathy throughout the film. All women -the only sex to sense the presence of evil- refer to her as horrifying and revolting so the audience may come to believe there's something unearthly at work. That the girl has a devastating effect on the male of the species is never in question. Handsome Maxwell Reed plays a carnival boxer who's infatuation unwittingly releases the girl's inner demon and pays a terrible price as does the family who, once again, intends to drive Emmie from civilization. Honor Blackman, in her first role, plays one of only two young girls who can abide Emmie's presence and this implies that the real problem may lie in the fears and hatreds of adults. Emmie herself is afraid of what's inside her and only uses her strange sex-power to defend herself from the lustful intentions of the opposite sex and the constant persecution by her own sex who seemingly won't be happy until the girl is permanently removed from society. The story begins and ends in a church and gives this rather Gothic tale a strange allegorical feel. If one discards the nebulous supernatural interpretation, humanity is a bit barbaric here and the moral, if there is one, is right out of the Dark Ages. Society had made the girl a killer. The film's very theme is of a dual nature- man's inhumanity to man vs. confronting something that may be "not of this earth". The movie's title and the presence of the Church throughout slants the debate in favor of the latter interpretation -and the fact Emmie plays sombre, "unholy" music on that venerable institution's various organs implies a stranger in its midst. There are a number of masterful set-pieces (the carnival, the countryside, the church services) that are visually arresting and shows the care and effort taken with this film. Directed with style by Lance Comfort, the baroque play of light and shadow, sanctimonious good and ambiguous evil, and a possible force of Nature that can't be tamed give this psychological melodrama, with its references to Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, more than a semblance of "Brit Noir". The fact that McKenna has the same off-beat appeal (and thin upper lip) as that genre's masochistic temptress, Gloria Grahame, only adds to this impression. True horror fans may be disappointed -as will "noir" purists- but if one goes in with no expectations, they won't be disappointed and may even find themselves pondering some complex issues long after the movie's over.
Recommended, for sure.
I am dismayed by just about all the reviews which precede mine, mainly
due to the fact that they seem seriously involved with the film only
when trying to psychoanalyze the title character, which simply cannot
be done because the screenplay never really gets very involved in doing
so; this actually makes the nuanced performances of all concerned that
much more admirable and certainly does so with the direction of the
film by Lance Comfort.
This may not be LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but I think the dismissal of it as a quota quickie or a British B film is a bit much. The carnival scenes alone seem to demonstrate that some expense was gone to in the film's making and, in pure size at least, compare well with those in Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. And while Comfort may not be David Lean, it is obnoxious to call him, as one commentator did, the English Ed Wood, as this bespeaks a total lack of knowledge of either man's work. Comfort achieves a tremendously atmospheric production throughout, and is hampered in suspense only by the holes in the screenplay, which simply do not give any indication of what forces drive the title character. (He does similar and excellent work in BEDELIA.)
As for the acting, which is excellent on everybody's part, someone complains about the 'posh' accents used in the farming family for whom the Irish girl goes to work, but he should be advised that not every farming family in England is the British equivalent of the Joads, especially in the post WW2 era. Many of those families were quite wealthy and educated - this particular family seems to have at least 15 or 20 farmhands working for them and are leaders in the community. Also, with the exception of some undeservedly nasty remarks about Maxwell Reed (who could hardly be better at playing a lowlife than what we see here), and a couple of mentions of this being Honor Blackman's first movie (actually, it was her second), the important considerations about most of the cast go unmentioned. The first may be that we get a look at a very young Barry Morse (later, of THE FUGITIVE TV fame), more importantly at the very stylish Anne Crawford, who was a fairly major English star of the day and who tragically died of leukemia at 36, and most particularly, at Siobhan McKenna, who was quite arguably the greatest Irish actress of the entire twentieth century (and certainly of the second half of it) and regarded so by critics and audiences alike, but who, with the exception of not more than a half-dozen times (mostly early on), eschewed film appearances almost entirely in favor of stage work on both sides of the Atlantic and a very occasional TV appearance. Do most of the correspondents here even know that? It would seem not. That all of this about her (and to some extent the others) goes unmentioned, while commentators waste their time with gratuitous attacks on even the unnamed wife of one of this film's stars, does not say a great deal of good about much of what appears in these reviews.
This is a rock-solid film made less than it might have been by an unclear screenplay; it might have been something of a masterpiece if made by an Alfred Hitchcock, but to blame Lance Comfort for not being Alfred Hitchcock is like blaming Cary Grant for not being John Gielgud - in other words, just plain silly.
Daughter of Darkness is directed by Lance Comfort and adapted to
screenplay by Max Catto from his own play titled They Walk Alone. It
stars Anne Crawford, Maxwell Reed, Siobhan McKenna, George Thorpe,
Barry Morse, Liam Redmond, Cyril Smith and Honor Blackman. Music is by
Clifton Parker and cinematography by Stanley Pavey.
Emmie Beaudine (McKenna) isn't liked by the women folk of the Irish village community where she lives. There's something about her that riles them, frightens them even. So when the women of the village round up on her keeper, the priest, she is sent off to live on a farm in a North Yorkshire county of England. Which is timely as she has had an altercation with one of the men from a travelling fair. Once at the "Tallent" family farm, Emmie settles in well and seems genuinely happy, but still some of the women folk in the vicinity view her with suspicion, and when a face from Emmie's past shows up, it's the catalyst for doom and desperation.
It's an odd chiller of a movie, something of an acquired taste, it's hard to pigeonhole. Never overtly horror, noir or otherwise, it's not hard to see why some specialist genre fans have found it a disappointment. Yet if you can buy into Comfort and Catto's ethereal world there's a picture of great rewards here, a complex character study mingling with asides on sexual empowerment, even a story with supernatural leanings, the edges of which are deliberately shaded in grey. And of course there's the crime factor bulging at the seams, Emmie Beaudine a cold murderess, her rhyme and reason for being so repulsed by male sexual contact is again deliberately left floating in an emotionally distorted purgatory.
Nicely photographed in black and white, the visual atmosphere is very tight to the murky themes swirling around the plot. There's also a number of memorable scenes, the hurly burly of the carnival sequences, the hauntingly troubling playing of an organ, and some super scenes featuring Thorn the Alsatian dog, a real life war hero (look him up, amazing animal) who is also very much a key character here. Strong acting performances around McKenna are a bonus (including the beautiful Blackman in her first credited role), but it is the Northern Irish actress who spellbindingly holds court, with much of her visual acting stunning in its execution.
Love it or hate it, you wont be able to ignore it. 9/10
"Daughter of Darkness" begins with some very cool opening credits. The
font and backgrounds are quite striking and work well with the rest of
the film. As for the rest of the movie, it's an odd little story about
a strange woman who rubs other women the wrong way. While I thought
this aspect of the story was overdone, the overall film is worth your
The story begins with a bunch of sexless old biddies approaching the local priest. They think that his housekeeper, Emily, is evil. Why exactly they think that is a bit vague--but apparently they hate her because men are inexplicably attracted to her (she's not THAT pretty by the way). Regardless, the priest is a wimpy guy who just wants things to be quiet, so he sends her to work for some far off folks. However, once in the new locale, once again the local women inexplicably grow to hate her. The problem is, you learn later that they have darned good reason--though they have no idea how bad she really is!
This is a good film but I think some of it was overdone. The way women almost automatically hate Emily seems ridiculous and making all this more subtle would have worked much better. Still, it is an enjoyable little film and worth seeing despite a few limitations.
The story sees an Irish girl Emmie (Siobhan McKenna) driven from her
community and relocated with a farm family in England. Other women can
sense evil around her yet she seems innocent to the viewer. However, by
the end of the film, it's pretty clear that Emmie is bad news as the
body count increases! Throughout the film, Bess (Anne Crawford) senses
that there is something wrong about the girl. She finally fires her to
which the response is "You'll be sorry". You just know that there is
going to be a repercussion .... and there is.....
Siobhan McKenna is creepy in the lead role - she looks weird. The English family that she stays with is pretty ghastly with their extremely posh accents and enthusiasm for everything (among the guilty for inappropriate posh dialect is Honor Blackman) yet this doesn't distract from the story. It's a good film with some genuinely creepy scenes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you know the name Lance Comfort today you're either 80 plus with a total recall of British 'B' pictures you saw more than half a century ago or else a film student specializing in British 'programmers' from the 40s and early 50s. Daughter Of Darkness dates from 1948 and introduced Siobhan McKenna to British film-goers, not that anyone seemed to care. In one sense acting joke Maxwell Reed enjoyed a higher profile but then he did marry Joan Collins before she decided that one non-actor was enough in any family and gave him the old heave-ho. What we have here is the old con trick; we're shown McKenna as a seemingly innocent, naive colleen in Ould Oirland, who wouldn't say boo to an erect phallus and gradually come to realize that she is a prototype serial killer before the term existed. Liam Redmond, Ann Crawford and Honor Blackman are along for the ride and those with a keen eye will note an uncanny resemblance between Maxwell Reed and another Max, Wall. Worth watching if it surfaces on the Late, Late Show but don't go out of your way.
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