Dead of Night DVD

Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton, Alberto Cavalcanti, 1945

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Film Details

Directed by Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton, Alberto Cavalcanti

Produced in 1945

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

StudioCanal have issued the newly restored Ealing Classic Dead of Night on DVD and Blu-ray- so how does this classic British horror film look in the 21st century?

The glorious multi-director Dead of Night is not quite the only British horror film made in the 1940s, but it so nearly qualifies for that title that all other rivals for the title seem footling. On its original cinema showing, the film created something of a minor sensation – it should be remembered that such fare was rare indeed on British screens in this era and audiences hungry for a dose of the macabre or the supernatural had to be grateful for all the crumbs they were thrown. The fact that such an unsettling piece of work – surrealistic and nightmarish on the deepest level - was a product of the comfortably bourgeois Ealing Studios, famous for its affectionate and indulgent pictures of a certain version of British life, is perhaps part of the film’s appeal. The presence of the actors Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford (so memorable – and hilarious – as the cricket-obsessed Englishman in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes) perhaps lends an air of cosy complacency to the piece, but their episode should be seen in context: the 'golfing' story is basically a jeu d'esprit, an attempt to lighten the mood between darker sequences. And the darkest episode – which is also not without a deeply sardonic humour – is one of the great glories of British Gothic cinema: the ventriloquist's dummy episode directed by the maverick Brazilian auteur Cavalcanti and starring Michael Redgrave as a man obsessed with his wooden alter ego (Redgrave, of course, was an actor well acquainted with psychological conflict in his own troubled life, often channelled into his work). The subversive nature of this deeply creepy episode should not be underestimated – and the murderous, independently-minded dummy at war with its putative master has been much imitated since (cf Lindsay Shonteff’s Devil Doll, 1964), and it is perhaps only within the context of a portmanteau ghost story film that such an unyielding picture of psychosis and obsession could be presented (it goes without saying that the force of the episode is often due to the quietly monomaniac playing of Redgrave; if the actor considered this performance to be a lightweight assignment sandwiched between his more serious work, that would be to seriously underestimate the truthfulness of his performance - a performance all the more impressive given that its levels of psychological observation were more at the service of raising the hackles on the viewer’s neck (a function the film can still effortlessly maintain 60 odd years later) than offering a plausible picture of psychosis.

Dead of Night takes on board a varieties of interesting psychological issues, such as the stripping away of layers of psychological deceit in the innocence of the dream state and even incorporates an examination of the British tendency to ‘pull together' to obtain a common goal - which might be said to be what happens with the very disparate group of individuals that the architect played by Mervyn Johns meets at the house he finds himself arriving at in his recurrent dream. Are we shown in these very different types (young, older, spontaneous, stuffy) a microcosm of British society? (Even though the real agenda is, of course, to provide a variety of narrators.) And speaking of this last aspect, the film also provides an early example of the unreliable narrator - at least one of the stories we're told is, quite self-consciously, a lie.

Barry Forshaw on 11th February 2014
Author of 628 reviews

Dead of Night Dead of Night

Film Description

A superb British portmanteau horror film from 1945, Dead of Night draws on material from HG Wells and EF Benson amongst others, with Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer the directors. The whole film is saturated with excellence, but the outstanding moment is Michael Redgrave's descent into madness in The Ventriloquist's Dummy.

Mervyn Johns plays the architect who arrives at a country house thinking that he has been hired to remodel it. He finds the building strangely familiar, and upon entering discovers that he recognizes all of the house's occupants from a recurring nightmare he has experienced. One by one, everyone present relates their own horrific nightmare: Grainger (Anthony Baird) dreams that he is a racing driver recuperating from an accident; teenager Sally O'Hara (Sally Ann Howes) dreams of a Christmas party where she discovers a lone crying child; Joan Courtland (Googie Withers) relates a story of an antique mirror linked to an ancient murder; the next story concerns two golfers who vie murderously for the attention of a young lady, while the final story features a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) whose dummy comes to life.

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Publisher: Studio Canal

Length: 103 mins

Aspect ratio: 4:3

Format: DVD B&W

Region: 2

Released: 13th November 2006

Cat No: OPTD0610

Subtitles: None

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Community Reviews

by Anon on 29th August 2002

A favourite of the eccentric composer Frank Zappa. This film is possibly the best of the ensemble-director genre and a forerunner to the unfairly maligned 'Four Rooms'... Read on


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