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Nothing But The Night (1972)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Nothing But The Night (1972)
35mm, colour, 90 mins
DirectorPeter Sasdy
Production CompanyCharlemagne Productions
ProducerAnthony Nelson Keys
ScreenplayBrian Hayles
Original novelJohn Blackburn
PhotographyKenneth Talbot
MusicMalcolm Williamson

Cast: Christopher Lee (Colonel Bingham); Peter Cushing (Sir Mark Ashley); Diana Dors (Anna Harb); Georgia Brown (Joan Foster); Keith Barron (Dr. Peter Haynes); Gwyneth Strong (Mary Valley); Fulton MacKay (Cameron)

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A retired detective resumes his old profession to try to explain the apparent suicides of some trustees of a wealthy but mysterious Scottish island orphanage.

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After a prolific career in television, Hungarian-born Peter Sasdy made his big-screen directorial debut in 1970 with Taste The Blood Of Dracula, and quickly established himself as one of the most promising new talents in the field of British horror with this and follow-up films Countess Dracula (1971) and Hands of the Ripper (1971). In 1972, he abandoned the Gothic flourishes of his earlier work to make a trio of low-key science-fiction-influenced productions: the cinema version of Doomwatch, the Nigel Kneale-scripted TV play The Stone Tape (BBC, tx. 25/12/1972), and this intriguing if only intermittently successful oddity.

Nothing But The Night begins as a crime thriller, with retired detective Colonel Bingham (Christopher Lee) investigating the apparent suicide of an old friend, along with two other trustees of the same foundation who have died in similarly mysterious circumstances. When a young girl, Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong), ends up traumatised in hospital following the crash of a coach containing yet more trustees, Bingham forms an alliance with Dr Peter Haynes (Keith Barron) and the eminent pathologist Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing) to probe Mary's memory and solve the mystery.

But by the end of the film, the rug has been pulled out from under audience expectations too many times for comfort. So many major characters are either abruptly killed off or turn out to be anything but what they initially seemed, that when Sasdy and screenwriter Brian Hayles finally decide that they're making sci-fi horror with occult overtones, they have to pepper what should be a fast-paced climax with overly talky scenes set up purely to explain what has been going on. The sheer number of red herrings (the hapless Diana Dors has much screen time but little ultimate relevance) diminishes the force of the fiery climax, which from today's perspective looks like a pale shadow of that of the following year's The Wicker Man (d. Robin Hardy), which also starred Christopher Lee.

Nothing But The Night was made by Charlemagne Productions, a company set up by Lee and producer Anthony Nelson Keys with the intention of producing traditional British horror films closer to The Devil Rides Out (d. Terence Fisher, 1968) than the increasingly gory, sexually graphic output of Hammer and its rivals. But the film's box-office failure led to Rank pulling out of its distribution deal, and the company was wound up shortly afterwards.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Hypnotherapy (2:19)
2. A fatal crossing (2:05)
3. A shocking discovery (3:22)
4. Mary's secret (4:10)
Wicker Man, The (1973)
Stone Tape, The (1972)
Byron, Kathleen (1923-2009)
Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Gambon, Sir Michael (1940-)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
Nelson Keys, Anthony (1911-1985)