Cast & Crew
Architect Walter Craig, seeking the possibility of some work at a country farmhouse, soon finds himself once again stuck in his recurring nightmare. Dreading the end of the dream that he knows is coming, he must first listen to all the assembled guests' own bizarre tales.
Sally Ann Howes
Dead of Night (1945)
After 1938, Ealing was run by Michael Balcon, one of the founders of Gainsborough Pictures, who had overseen several early films by Alfred Hitchcock. When Gainsborough was absorbed by the rival Gaumont Film Company, Balcon worked with MGM for a brief, unhappy period before hiring on at Ealing. Dead of Night was an atypical choice for Ealing and for Balcon, who favored droll comedies and "important" social dramas, but the nature of the production as a group effort was a way for the studio to show off its talents during the postwar period. In the past, macabre flourishes had been employed to bestow upon certain films an allegorical gravitas. In The Halfway House (1944), a group of travelers (a staple of the nascent horror anthology subgenre) decamps at a Welsh inn where the newspapers are a year out of date and the proprietor (Mervyn Johns) casts no shadow. Their time out of time allows each sojourner respite to work out his or her character-defining personal kink before an upbeat conclusion closer in spirit to Brigadoon (1954) than Tales from the Crypt (1972).
Between them, Halfway House directors Basil Dearden and Alberto Cavalcanti helmed four of the six vignettes comprising Dead of Night, their slack being picked up by Charles Crichton and Robert Hamer (a studio editor making his directorial debut). However the portmanteau film (so named for a type of traveling bag allowing the storage of many small items) may have been thought to condescend to supernatural motifs for their own sake, the project's direct inspirations were largely literary, deriving two of their tales from writings by H. G. Wells and E. F. Benson. While Wells' jocular "Golfing Story" (in which rivals for the love of a woman settle their score on the fairway, with fatal results) is considered the film's weakest link, the melancholy "Christmas Party" (in which Sally Ann Howes stumbles upon a strange little boy during a holiday game of hide-and-seek), "The Hearse Driver" (a tour de force for character actor Miles Malleson, for whom "Room for one more" became a trademark phrase) and "The Haunted Mirror" are all regarded (and rightfully so) as enduring classics of the cinematic ghost story. Nevertheless, it's John Baines' "Ventriloquist's Dummy" that has had the most lasting impact. The vignette stars Michael Redgrave as cabaret entertainer Maxwell Frere, who's comically abusive dummy "Hugo" seems to be the one pulling the strings. Even in 1945, this concept was not original; The Great Gabbo (1929) starred Erich von Stroheim as a ventriloquist entirely too dependent on his own little man. Nonetheless, it was Dead of Night that begat the killer doll subgenre, whose lineage extends directly to the classic Twilight Zone episode "Dummy" (1962), Lindsay Shonteff's Devil Doll (1964), Richard Attenborough's Magic (1978) and Dead Silence (2007), and indirectly to the likes of Child's Play (1988) and Saw (2004) and their respective sequels.
Michael Redgrave was the only son of itinerant stage performer Roy Redgrave and his second wife, actress Margaret Scudamore. Trained for a career as a teacher, Michael Redgrave forfeited the steady income for an uncertain but romantic life in the arts. After making his London stage debut in 1936, he enjoyed successful seasons as a repertory player with the Old Vic. Redgrave landed on the map of moviegoers with a role in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) and matured into something like the face of British cinema in such national classics as The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), The Night My Number Came Up (1955), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and The Go-Between (1970). He had not yet finished work for Anthony Asquith on The Way to the Stars (1945) when he was approached by Ealing to appear in Dead of Night. More interested in playing a schizophrenic than in the supernatural ramifications, Redgrave mastered the art of throwing his voice with the coaching of Peter Brough, a popular ventriloquist on British radio. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Director Cavalcanti had wanted "Hugo" modeled after Redgrave but the finished product bore a greater resemblance to Brough's basswood nemesis "Archie Andrews." (A 25-year-old dwarf named John McGuire was used for moments when "Hugo" was needed to ambulate on his own.)
It's worth considering that part of the popularity of this über-creepy tale is due to the fact that prints of Dead of Night screened in the United States were missing both Crichton's "Golfing Story" and Hamer's "The Haunted Mirror," which many critics believed then and continue to assert are superior to "Ventriloquist's Dummy." If the truncated release did give Cavalcanti's vignette a leg up with audiences, subsequent TV prints, VHS tapes and DVD releases on both sides of the Atlantic have been complete, leaving it up to the viewer to decide ultimately which works best when viewed alone, in the dead of night.
Producer: Michael Balcon
Directors: Alberto Cavalcanti (segments "Christmas Party" and "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Charles Crichton (segment "Golfing Story"), Basil Dearden (segments "Hearse Driver" and "Linking Narrative"), Robert Hamer (segment "The Haunted Mirror")
Screenplay: John Baines (and stories "The Haunted Mirror" and "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Angus MacPhail (and story "Christmas Party"); T.E.B Clarke (additional dialogue); H.G. Wells (story "Golfing Story"), E.F. Benson (story, "Hearse Driver" and linking narrative)
Cinematography: Jack Parker, Stan Pavey, Douglas Slocombe
Art Direction: Michael Relph
Music: Georges Auric
Film Editing: Charles Hasse
Cast: Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley, linking narrative), Mary Merrall (Mrs. Foley, linking narrative), Googie Withers (Joan Cortland, segment "Haunted Mirror"), Frederick Valk (Dr. van Straaten, segment "Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Antony Baird (Hugh Grainger, segment "Hearse Driver"), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O'Hara, segment "Christmas Party"), Robert Wyndham (Dr. Albury, segment "Hearse Driver"), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger, segment "Hearse Driver").
by Richard Harland Smith
English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby
Michael Balcon Presents... A Lifetime of Films by Michael Balcon
In My Mind's I by Michael Redgrave
Ealing Studios by Charles Barr
Fifty Classic British Films 1932-1982 by Anthony Slide
Dead of Night (1945)
Dead of Night/The Queen of Spades
The gorgeous visuals are not the whole story, however. They rightly serve a narrative of a 19th century German engineer (Anton Walbrook), working in the Russian army, who envies his comrades' wealth. When he learns of a countess (Edith Evans) who years earlier sold her soul to the devil in exchange for the secret of winning at cards, he seeks out the old woman and becomes obsessed with learning her secret. To get into the countess's household, he feigns a romantic interest in her pretty young ward. And all the while, his obsession brings him closer to insanity.
Director Thorold Dickinson is not a well-known name, even among film aficionados. He directed, wrote, and/or produced only a handful of British films before leaving the business to work for the U.N. and then become a film professor at University College, London. Probably his most famous films were The Queen of Spades and the original 1940 version of Gaslight, which also starred Anton Walbrook. (The actor actually recommended Dickinson to producer Anatole de Grunwald when Queen of Spades ran into production trouble.) Dickinson clearly made the most of a limited budget in this picture, and the film is full of imaginative visual tricks, compositions, and flourishes. It's hard to think of another film with as much black in each frame. The shadowy lighting was designed partly to hide the cheapness of the sets, but it also serves as an appropriate comment on Walbrook's state of mind and the eerieness of the story in general. Nearly every scene is set at night.
The Queen of Spades is full of other talented cast and crew members, too. Associate producer Jack Clayton, for instance, went on to produce and direct The Innocents, another classic British shocker. Composer Georges Auric scored Roman Holiday, Orpheus, Lola Montes, and The Innocents. Cinematographer Otto Heller, who started in the silent era, went on to shoot Peeping Tom and The Ipcress File. Anton Walbrook was just coming off one of his most famous roles, Boris Lermontov in Powell-Pressburger's The Red Shoes. And 61-year-old Edith Evans, a grande dame of the British stage, was making one of her first movies in the role of the aging countess. Her scene with Walbrook, in which he tries to pry the secret of the cards out of her, is extraordinary; Evans doesn't say a word, yet she uses her eyes and facial expressions so powerfully that she all but steals the scene - and the movie. Dickinson's use of a ticking clock in this sequence is also highly imaginative.
Dead of Night is not nearly as underknown. An anthology film, it's the tale of an architect who arrives at a pleasant English farmhouse to find five people whom he has dreamt about many times before ¿ always in this very house. When he reveals this strange experience to them, the others take turns relating their own macabre, ghostly experiences that they have never been able to explain. These stories are enacted via flashback and directed by four different directors (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer). The ventriloquist's dummy sequence, starring Michael Redgrave in one of his finest performances, is justly famous and genuinely scary, but the haunted mirror sequence is in some ways even more frightening and compelling. As a whole, the film is just as imaginative as The Queen of Spades, if not as stylized visually.
Each disc boasts a decent transfer (the notoriously bad sound of Dead of Night is much better here) and features an attractively-designed menu as well as selections of poster art and behind-the-scenes stills. But best of all are the films themselves. They are "horror" movies in the sense of the word before graphic gore became part of the genre. They are frightening not so much on a visceral level as on an emotional and intellectual level. Because of that, their power lingers.
For more information or to order Dead of Night/The Queen of Spades, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Dead of Night/The Queen of Spades
US distributors thought that the original cut of the film was too long. The golfing sequence and the Christmas ghost tale were both cut. This confused audiences, who could not understand what Sally Ann Howes, Basil Radford, and Naunton Wayne were doing in the linking story.