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One of the rare, gratifying occasions when a mediocre book is transformed by
experts into a first-rate, memorable movie.
"Endless Night" was one of Agatha Christie's last novels--also one of her
least satisfying. A macabre romance about a wealthy young American heiress
(the glorious Hayley Mills in a mesmerizing, haunting performance) who falls
in love with and impulsively marries her sexy albeit mysterious chauffeur
(the wonderfully versatile Hywell Bennett who teamed with Ms. Mills in two
previous films, the tender comedic drama "The Family Way" and the
still-shocking psychosexual thriller "The Twisted Nerve").
The happy lovebirds build their dreamhouse (still an architectural wonder) in England's remote Lake District (lusciously photographed in stunning Technicolor), away from the prying eyes of her avaricious relatives, and their tenderly rendered love story seems headed for a deserved happy ending--until the final reel suddenly reveals a totally unexpected twist that I guarantee will astound even the most astute mystery buff, and leave the hapless viewer in a state of shaken anxiety and sadness. Such an unusual denoument didn't work on the printed page; on film it's a bona fide shocker, thanks to the mastery of its two leads, a knockout turn by the stunning Britt Ekland (as one of Ms. Mills' parasitic relatives), the expert direction by Sidney Gilliatt, and the magificently eerie soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, no less. "Endless Night" was never released theatrically in the U.S. Properly promoted, it would have made a boxoffice killing. I caught its American premiere on a pay-cable station, expecting nothing (the book was hopeless) and, much to my amazement, finding myself enthralled by this classy artistic treat. Psychological thrillers don't come any better than "Endless Night," which lulls the viewer into a state of bliss not unlike its romantic leads--until the startlingly savage twist ends the film with a disturbing (and heartbreaking) resonance. Hywell Bennett and the grown-up Hayley Mills were two of the finest (not to mention comeliest) young British actors of the late '60s and early '70s, and "Endless Night" might well be their most memorable hour-and-a-half. A must-see for mystery buffs; highly recommended for everyone else.
Endless Night is one of those movies that is hugely flawed, and yet it
sticks in the mind unlike many more polished movies. Extremely slow paced
for much of it's length and with several sequences that feel almost
unnecessary, and even a few which just seem wierd, the film than delivers a
true knock out of a twist which makes one realise how well the story has
been constructed. For this reason, in some respect it's more satisfying to
watch the second time even if one is no longer surprised, because one can
notice all the little clues that have been put in ,and many of the
previously mentioned unnecessary or wierd bits seem more essential. There
is, though, one huge red herring that seems rather pointless.
This was the last of the Hywell Bennett/Hayley Mills collaborations for the Boulting Brothers and it is possibly their most interesting. Cast are all excellent ,including George Sanders in one of his final roles, and this is just as well since the film is indeed extremely talky. The alternately eerie and romantic Bernard Herrmann score is very memorable, although they could have made sure Mills' singing voice [obviously dubbed] sounded like her normal voice.
Many will be unsatisfied with this film ,but try it if you fancy a somewhat different kind of thriller, even it's only really a thriller in the final half hour!
I don't agree at all with the poor reviews of this movie. I first saw this movie years ago and it stayed in my mind and finally I had the pleasure of finding it on dvd so I ordered it. It's probably my favourite dvd I have so far. It's a low-budget movie but yet it's a movie with a lot of class. The actors give great performances, above all Hayley Mills, and Bernard Herrmans score is sensational. It's a beautiful production and at times it made me think of "vertigo", and not only because herrman wrote the theme to that movie too. I love this movie! Sure they could make a billion dollar remake of it with a lot of stars but it still wouldn't beat this. It's a piece of art.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
British Lion made some great films: Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man
leap to mind immediately. Great cult films that pack a real punch,
dealing with weird subject matter and huge twisting plots.
Endless Night was made by British Lion at around the same time as these better-known films; accordingly, it's the least Agatha Christie-ish Agatha Christie you'll ever see.
A definite tinge of Hitchcock in some sequences, and Bernard Hermann's weird, eerie music helps. There are some nice, eerie, disjointed flashbacks and some strange and sinister dreamy sequences.
Hayley Mills gives life to a bland character, lumbered with an iffy accent and someone else's singing voice. Britt Ekland is luminous and lusty as ever. Hywel Bennett is really rather suave, in his own way. The house, Gypsy's Acre, is a real Bond Villain's Lair: a monstrosity of hidden swimming pools and groovy furniture. The foul creation of a seedy Swedish architect. Despite this, Hywel and Hayley seem happy ... until Britt moves in with them.
The storytelling gets a bit unclear at the end, where it is clearly stated that one character did not exist and is merely specifically employed to scare and unsettle people. Poison is the cause of death of a character, but not mentioned by the coroner. As a result of this, I found the last ten minutes of the film rather baffling. It seemed that the film's desperation to be strange and creepy led it to contradict itself. Or maybe I missed the point?
Guaranteed 100% Miss Marple Free, there's glamour and sinister overtones, taking the film into totally new territory for Agatha Christie.
I won't say it's a bad film, but I have to believe the liberties taken
the adaptation of the story go well beyond the nudity and modern setting.
(I will say that the house with the remote-controlled indoor swimming pool
in the living room was a bit over the top.)
I will confess that I did not guess the direction the plot would take, but what was so disappointing was the profusion of loose ends and entirely pointless characters. Agatha didn't usually write them that way - everyone ended up with a role in the outcome of the story. Here we are presented with in-laws, neighbors, family friends, and a mysterious old woman --- all of whom have nothing at all to do with the resolution of the story. Most of them could have been omitted entirely and the story would have been essentially unchanged.
My DVD even featured an editing error: about 10 seconds of the film repeat precisely (when the girl's parents are observed getting back into their car to leave.)
There is also a broken window that is never explained, a ghostly appearance that is never accounted for or revisited, a car is observed to take an unusually long to get somewhere - but we are never given the significance. An architect seems to know things the audience does not -- yet no explanation is offered of how he knows them.
Like Agatha's best writing, characters and clues and complications pile up... but then they are inexplicably thrown away in favor of an unexpected, yet rather anticlimactic resolution.
The is a film that has always stuck in my mind. I've just watched it again (after picking it up on video for $1.95!) It has a Hitchcock flavour about it so anyone expecting a "Murder on the Orient Express" type mystery might be disappointed. It's not a horror movie either (as the picture on the DVD seems to suggest) but a brooding (& fairly low-key) thriller which has an underlying feel of unease about it. You know something is going to happen but are left in the dark as to what. It gives away nothing until the very end (which is is well worth waiting for). It's enjoyable to watch a second time too because there are clues (and red herrings) thrown in along the way which you may not have noticed first time round. Your perceptions will have also shifted (like the floor at Gypsy's Acre) and characters and events start appearing in a new light, taking on new meanings.
The last film made by the illustrious Launder & Gilliat team is a
psycho-thriller that desperately wants to be praised as "Hitchcockian"
and even recruits Bernard Herrmann, Hitch's favourite composer, to
write the score. Perhaps the Hitchcock film it most resembles, however,
is "Frenzy" both seem to be the work of ageing filmmakers trying to
get "with it".
"Endless Night" is extremely faithful to Agatha Christie's source novel (it may be the closest-ever filming of one of her novels) but neither of the two protagonists seem to come across with the same conviction that they do in the book. Hayley Mills struggles with a difficult part (Ellie is a fairly insipid character) while Hywel Bennett somehow never convinces as the enigmatic Michael.
There's lots of fun spotting familiar faces in the supporting cast, including an uncredited Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier from "Doctor Who") as the auctioneer. Per Oscarsson is good as the insightful architect Santonix, who guesses something of what is going on, although our admiration for him is lessened by the hideously vulgar house he builds (which all the characters acclaim as a masterpiece!) I can't help wondering what Dame Agatha's loyal fans made of this film; the setting in an idyllic corner of rural England is traditional enough but the atmosphere is a great deal darker than usual. The novel, written in 1967, represented quite a bold departure for the writer (and a successful one) but the film at times descends into banality. Having said that, the twee nature of Ellie and Michael's romance gives the conclusion much more impact and the final images are startling.
How old was Agatha Christie when she wrote this? Pushing 70? She was
pretty old, about my age, and that might account for the tragic
emotional tonus of this story.
You wouldn't know this was a Christie story if it weren't so advertised. True, there are some of the usual themes -- British class distinctions, extreme wealth, jealousy, poison -- but they are submerged by a love story that seems at first to be going nowhere fast. The story lacks any of the novelist's usual subtle wit.
No point in spelling out the plot in any detail. A poor chauffeur-for-hire meets a blond sylph and they fall for each other. He discovers that she is the sixth richest girl in the world, her coming-of-age party having been covered in the newspapers, and he rejects her because, as he says, "I have my pride." (The audience may be forgiven for a few muffled chuckles at this point.) She dies under mysterious circumstances while riding. In these circles, "riding" is taken to mean horseback riding. He inherits the money. And things thereafter go a little berserk without there being a hell of a lot in the way of motivation.
The film is narrated by the young man, Michael (Bennett). At first his story seems perfectly reasonable and he is presented as a fellow of principle if not money. Hayley Mills is introduced in a filmy white dress, her long blonde hair wafted by the breeze as she capers alone in a meadow, slender limbs, radiantly healthy, and -- well, you know the type. Eminently edible. But Michael's story, though it begins normally enough, describing the approach-avoidance conflict from which he suffers, being in love with Mills and yet resenting her wealth, gradually changes.
He becomes less and less reasonable, and less nice. He's impolite to Greta (Eklund), Mills' tutor and possessive friend. Greta is often described as "bossy" but frankly her supposed obsession with power isn't well shown. There is just one argument -- a slightly bitchy one -- between Greta and Michael over the placement of a more than usually ugly statue of a cat. What evidence we see of her bossiness is rather weak tea. If they're going to have a domineering German nurse, couldn't the nurse and Hayley Mills have had a little consensual flagellation or something? The climax seems to come out of thin air. A sudden unmotivated reversal of the character of Michael.
It's not a bad movie though. Romance, yes, but a romance filled somehow with uneasiness and a gradually growing sense of dread. And when I first watched this and heard the first few notes of the score, I thought, "OMG, the composer is ripping off Bernard Hermann note for note." It turned out to BE Hermann, and a very effective Hermann at that, full of an eerie melancholy.
Maybe the reason it leaves a viewer feeling sad is that Christie seems to be stretching her talent so much trying to achieve "significance." And for the first time I'm aware of, we actually care about the character who dies, whereas in previous stories the victim was nothing more than a stereotype who, once gone, was forgotten. The death was only a pivot on which the remainder of the story could turn. Here, it's really too bad.
I love this film and have watched it many times. The idea at the heart of the film is very haunting: it is encapsulated in the words of the Swedish architect who says, at one point, "You should have went the other way". I think there are some genuine chills in this film, particularly the scene where Michael returns to Gypsey's Acre, which always has the hairs standing up on my neck. It is a film that you cannot discuss in terms of the plot, as it has a sudden twist at the end (or really, a series of twists), which tend to alter your perception of everything that you've seen before. I think it stands up there with most of the films in this genre, and is a good deal better than many others. Everyone has a "good bad movie", and this is mine. In the hands of Hitchcock, it would have been a masterpiece: its makers manage to achieve something less elevated, but nevertheless lasting in its effects.
Around 45 years ago, when I was just a young lad, Hayley Mills was my favorite actress, and her 1962 film "In Search of the Castaways" was my favorite film, but between this and that, I don't think I've seen Hayley in anything since 1965's "That Darn Cat." How nice, then, to see her, the other night, at age 26 in the 1972 British film "Endless Night," and to realize what a nubile nymph my old flame had turned into later in life! In this adaptation of a 1967 Agatha Christie novel, Hayley plays Ellie Thomsen, the 6th richest girl in the world, who, after one date with pretty-boy chauffeur Michael (excellently portrayed by Welsh actor Hywel Bennett), elopes with him and builds his dream house in the Herts countryside. It is hard to figure out what words best describe "Endless Night." It is not really a horror movie, or a love story, or a thriller, but certainly does have elements of all these types. The picture IS remarkably atmospheric, in no small measure due to yet another wonderfully evocative score by the great Bernard Herrmann, and should manage to baffle most viewers who are trying to figure out just where the story line is going. Besides the fine work by its two leads, veterans George Sanders (here in one of his last roles, and playing what his character self-describes as a "desiccated old poop") and Lois Maxwell add sterling support, and even Britt Ekland turns in a convincing performance as Ellie's tutor/companion. Throw in some gorgeous scenery in the Herts and Positano countrysides, a surprise final quarter hour that manages to subvert everything we thought we knew, and two or three mild scares and you've got yourself one very interesting entertainment. Kudos, indeed, to writer/director Sidney Gilliat! I just hope that I'm not foolish enough to wait another 40 years before watching Hayley Mills in another picture. Perhaps it's time for me to finally check out Hayley and Hywel in 1968's "Twisted Nerve"...IF it ever gets released on DVD!
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