Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Endless Night (1972)

... aka: Agatha Christie's Endless Night

Directed by:
Sidney Gilliat

Michael Rogers (Hywel Bennett) isn't too happy with his lot in life. From humble beginnings and currently working as a hired driver to chauffeur around rich people all over Europe, Michael gets such a big taste of the high life on a daily basis that he wants it for himself. Not content with visiting art auctions (and pretending to have the means to actually purchase the pieces) and passing off his borrowed Rolls Royce as his own, Michael's biggest dream in life is to build a beautiful modern home on a picturesque plot of land called Gypsy's Acre, which has the luxury of beautiful pastoral fields and an ocean view not far off in the distance. It's an obsession of his and he's determined to get it at all costs. One of his clients, a wealthy, world-famous architect named Santonix (Per Oscarsson), who has only a few years left to live, tells him not to give up on his dreams because, "If the wish can be willed, then perhaps the means will follow." And to a sociopathic social climber like Michael, the "means" are soon found in a sweet, pretty, nubile young woman... who happens to come from a very wealthy family.

While out at Gypsy's Acre taking photographs and dreaming of his future home, Michael bumps into a young American girl named Fenella Thomsen (an emaciated and bony-looking Hayley Mills), who prefers to be called Ellie and is studying singing at a conservatory. There's an instant connection between the two and they part ways with a kiss, with an agreement to meet up again soon. One thing leads to another and the two quickly get become hitched. As it turns out, Ellie is a filthy-rich heiress who has just come into a considerable fortune. The union quickly gets Michael and Ellie into all of the newspapers, with the "World's 6th richest girl" marrying a lowly chauffeur and all. Though her parents are dead, Ellie's extended family, including icy stepmother Cora (Lois Maxwell) and family lawyer Andrew Lippincott (George Sanders), try to pay him a considerable sum for him to quietly divorce Ellie. Being in love, he refuses the offer. The new couple purchase Gypsy's Acre and construction is immediately underway on their dream home. Or at least Michael's dream home...

Once everything is complete, the happy couple are finally able to move into their new digs; an elaborate monstrosity with huge pictures windows, a floor that moves to unveil a pool underneath, walls that flip around to unveil a music chamber, a bar and other things, conveyor belts and remote-controlled everything. With a flip of a button, even the seasonal ambience can be altered. Ellie and Michael open an antique shop in town and settle into what should be nice, wonderful life together. However, everyone seems to be getting ample warnings from just about every place possible. For starters, Miss Townsend (Patience Collier), a local psychic lady who family used to own the property, tells Ellie she's doomed if she stays there. Then there's the attractive Greta (Britt Ekland), Ellie's former tutor, who was let go by the family for lying to help facilitate Michael and Ellie's relationship during the early stages. Both Ellie's family lawyer and Santonix warn Michael not to get too close to her. Regardless, Greta comes to their home for a protracted stay.

Problems arise in the marriage, many caused by Greta's overbearing presence, nosiness and the fact she seems to be trying to take over the home. Several of Ellie's family members move to their town to keep tabs on things and are constantly spying on them. And the creepy old psychic lady and her Siamese cat lurk around outside. One strange thing after another happens until numerous people end up dead. One character may or may not be a ghost, there's a relatively easy-to-spot twist at the end and we get brief glimpses into Michael's childhood, which unveil bickering parents, possible sexual molestation from his stepfather and witnessing a childhood friend drown.

I really liked the chemistry between Bennett and Mills in the underrated psycho-thriller TWISTED NERVE (1968), so I was looking forward to seeing them paired here again. Unfortunately, this "thriller" (often listed as a horror film though it barely even qualifies) is lacking in both originality and dramatic punch. Bennett tries his best to give an intense, tortured performance and most of the supporting cast is solid, but the two primary female leads could have been better. British actress Mills' attempt at a countrified American accent is laughable and after awhile she stops even trying and sounds British again, though otherwise she gives an OK performance. Ekland never was much of an actress and does nothing to change anyone's perception of her here with her usual wooden, pouty-lipped line delivery and empty, deer-caught-in-headlights facial expressions.

It's based on a novel by Agatha Christie. Christie herself apparently didn't like this adaptation, and apparently neither did British critics or audiences of its day. The film flopped and was never released theatrically in the U.S. The cast includes Aubrey Richards as a friendly doctor, Madge Ryan as Michael's disapproving mother, Walter Gotell and an uncredited Leo Genn as a shrink in the final scene. Bernard Herrmann (with assist from Howard Blake on the Moog Synthesizer) did the eerie score and Shirley Jones dubbed Mills' singing. The title comes from the William Blake poem "Auguries of Innocence."


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