Dead of Night Review
This is an extract from a review of the sixteen-disc Ealing Collection set. The full review will be posted shortly.
Opening with the journey of a car towards a country house, architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), Dead Of Night begins simply enough, with each guest at the party deigning to tell a ghost story to the others. Already, though, each one feels touched by the hand of fate as Craig tells them that he knows each one of them, though not how he knows them, and, adding to the air of mystery, he also knows how the evening will end. Around an open fire and with a bottle of wine decanting on the table, each guest tells a story, beginning with the tale of a ghostly undertaker with 'room for one more' in his hearse and carrying on with a ghost story set during a Christmas party and the glimpses of gothic horror seen through a haunted mirror. After a little light relief with the story about two golfers (Naunton Wayne and Basil Redford), one of whom has cheated the other to their death, Dead Of Night gathers itself for the superbly chilling tale of a ventriloquist Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) driven mad by his dummy Hugo, which appears to have come to life, either by supernatural means or simply in the mind of the troubled Frere. When Hugo threatens to leave Frere, the ventriloquist turns to murder, all the while the voice of Hugo haunting him.
A wonderful film, Dead Of Night has not lost any of its charms nor its chills over the years. Skilfully blending comedy and horror, Dead Of Night is rightfully considered one of the key supernatural thrillers and rises above the many portmanteau horrors that followed it. No matter the great (Asylum) or the bad (The Monster Club), Dead Of Night somehow rises above them all, with the tale of the two golfers being beautifully comic and the story of the haunted mirror dripping with gothic menace. However, reaching a peak with its final installment, that of Maxwell Frere being driven to insanity by the ambition of his dummy Hugo. Such a premise would be visited by William Goldman in his Magic, which would star Anthony Hopkins, but it feels remarkably fresh here, with Michael Redgrave drawing out the madness in the disturbing relationship between Maxwell Frere and Hugo with one, though not the one you might expect, being wholly dependent on the other. As good as he has ever been, Michael Redgrave's eyes portray the sense of calm that falls in the moments after sudden violence with, like Psycho long after it, no apparent end to the horror even as the curtain falls.
When reviewing Optimum's two-disc release of Whisky Galore!, I wrote, "[it] is a glorious-looking film on this DVD, with an almost perfect transfer from Optimum. Noise is almost non-existent and the contrast in the picture is simply beautiful, with a very complementary sharpness to the image. It's a DVD like this that make you wonder if the move to colour was an altogether wise idea so well does the story, production and look of the film work in combination with one another." That's not strictly the case with these six discs although the very last statement is confirmed given how the five black-and-white films supplied look a good deal better than the colour The Ladykillers.
Kind Hearts And Coronets probably looks the best and, given that I would imagine that Optimum have used the transfer of Whisky Galore from their earlier release, it will look equally good. However, Passport To Pimlico is disappointingly soft, perhaps in an attempt to disguise the condition of the print but which leaves it looking much less impressive than any of the other films in the set. Then again, none of the films have been restored particularly thoroughly with all of them, even Kind Hearts And Coronets, showing some obvious print damage. It's also worth saying, not that I mind though, that there's a fair amount of noise in the prints used, although it does look more as though it was present in the original prints than was generated through the transfer.
In general, though, they don't look bad. None of them have been gifted with the kind of transfer that Warner Brothers, for example, carry out with ease but they could have looked much, much worse. Except, that is, for The Ladykillers, which comes along looking like 'before' presentation in one of Warner's features on the restoration work that they carry out on the movies in their archives. With the colours not quite matching, objects have a soft halo about them and though the colours are perhaps too rich to look anything like real life, they do tend to look quite unbelievable. The effect is akin, though obviously not quite as extreme, to watching a 3D film without the glasses, with it looking much like the old release of The Wizard Of Oz than the restored two- or three-disc version. Though still watchable, it could have been so much better.
Given the age of each film, it won't be a surprise to learn that each film comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track, all of which aren't bad but do feature the occasional pop, click and bit of hissing. However, as one who doesn't object to the odd fault such as those, I thought them fine. In particular, there's a warmth about them, particularly Dead Of Night and Kind Hearts And Coronets, that's quite pleasing. The major oversight, given that these are Optimum releases, is that they do not come with subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD release.