Nothing But The Night



"Probing, terrifying and extraordinarily real!"


Christopher Lee - Colonel Bingham, Peter Cushing - Sir Mark Ashley, Diana Dors - Anna Harb, Georgia Brown - Joan Foster, Keith Barron - Dr. Haynes, Gwyneth Strong - Mary Valley, Fulton Mackay - Cameron, John Robinson - Lord Fawnlee, Morris Perry - Dr. Yeats, Michael Gambon - Inspector Grant, Shelagh Fraser - Mrs. Alison, Duncan Lamont - Dr. Knight, Kathleen Bryon - Dr. Rose, Geoffrey Frederick - Computer Operator, Louise Nelson - Nurse, Robin Wentworth - Porter, Michael Selig & John Kelland - Reporters

Released October 1972 (U.K.), 1974 (U.S.); 90 minutes; Eastman color; A Charlemagne Production; Released through Fox-Rank (U.K.), Cinema Systems (U.S.); Filmed on location and at Pinewood Studios, London. Director - Peter Sasdy; Producer - Anthony Nelson-Keys; Screenplay - Brian Hayles; Based on the novel by John Blackburn; Music - Malcolm Williamson; Music Director - Philip Martell; Director of photography - Ken Talbot; Camera - Ronnie Maaz; Editor - Keith Palmer; Production manager - Tom Sachs; Art director - Colin Grimes; Sound - Danny Daniel, Cynl Taylor, Don Chalice; Makeup - Eddie Knight; Wardrobe - Rosemary Burrows; Continuity - Doreen Dearnaley; Hairdresser - Pat McDermott; Special effects - Les Bowie


A frenzy of fear sweeps the screen as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, two great masters of suspense, come together in this spine-tingling gothic chiller. When a Scottish Island orphanage is besieged by a rash of cold-blooded murders, Special Bureau Chief Bingham (Lee) of Scotland Yard is dispatched to investigate. He and his ally (Cushing), a hospital pathologist, begin to uncover a series of bizarre and baffling clues. Their brave and unyielding search for the truth leads to a climax as shocking as it is terrifying!



Someone once described “Nothing But the Night” to me as being kind of like X-Files. Having seen it, I would say that that’s EXACTLY what it’s like: a dour, Toronto-era two-parter with a scifi premise and not-so-creepy execution. “Like X-Files but without the sexual tension” would probably be the shortest possible description of this film. In addition to the X-F-ish flavor (dark rooms, frumpy wardrobes, lots of location shooting, a note of paranoia), NBTN also has something of the series’ taste for ambiguity, for leaving questions unanswered. Questions like: Why would an eminent pathologist have a great bedside manner? 

But I’m getting ahead of myself: through some five to seven minutes of brief vignettes, it becomes apparent that the trustees of something or another involving a home for some kind of children are being bumped off one by one and that one of their wards, a girl who looks to be in her early teens but I think is meant to be ten, is hospitalized with minor injuries and a fire phobia. Her name’s Mary Valley, and she’s fairly important to the plot. Colonel Mustard, I mean, Bingham (Lee) is investigating the deaths of the trustees, and thinks the girl’s problems may offer a clue. He’s trying coax some cooperation out of his friend Sir Mark Ashley (Cushing), a pathologist so eminent that his name appears on the doors to the hospital’s pathology lab, right underneath the words “Pathology Lab”…. 

This film is based on a book of the same name by John Blackburn. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read about three other books (creepy but forgettable page-turners all) by the same author. This film shares the same format: a story that starts out looking like one thing and gradually turns into something else, “something else” being a kind of sci-fi medical thriller with a heavy gothic veneer. People who’ve seen this always seem to complain about the difficulty of getting their bearings within the story, I don’t think the film’s any worse in this respect than the Blackburn books I’ve read. And, although I knew from various synopses more or less where the plot was going, I didn’t find the red herring character obviously redherringish. If I hadn’t known said was a piece of misdirection going in, it would probably have taken me a while to figure out that that was what the character was. 

Much complaint is also directed at the ending for being confusing. Granted it’s not adequately foreshadowed, and there’s a certain amount of technobabble right before the explanation, but the statement of what actually happened is plain enough. The climax, however, is awkwardly choreographed and acted, and it requires Lee to play the victim, an approach with some tolerably obvious drawbacks. People invariably pick on this movie’s script, although, personally, I think the problem lies as much with Sasdy’s measured, unhurried direction: as usual, it feels like he gives the most trivial and the most significant aspects of the story equal time. The film editor appears to’ve been a really big fan of “Demons of the Mind”, so anyone who finds that movie’s approach to story-telling confusing will likewise have trouble w/ NBTN. 

Malcolm Williamson, who scored BOD and a smattering of early seventies Hammer, also scored this (the credits read: “Music by Malcolm Williamson, Musical Direction by Philip Martell”, just as if we were in Hammerland). He’s reputed to have a poor opinion of his score for this, claiming the film didn’t “inspire” him. In point of fact, it’s pretty good: unlike his minimalist scores for Horror of Frankenstein and Masks of Death, it features a full orchestra which he puts to interesting and fairly atmospheric use. As in BOD, he doesn’t seem to’ve grasped all the subtleties of scoring a FILM, but he at least understands concepts like variations on a theme, and having more than three notes to a musical cue. 

I would say that the single biggest reason for the film’s obscurity is its weak characterization. Mary Valley is a cipher, indifferently acted (or overacted); so are the other children in the piece. Her doctor, played by a fairly able actor of deeply non-descript appearance, belongs to the rather sanctimonious breed of underdog who would certainly be the hero in any American medical drama. Thankfully he is not, but who is? The Cat In The Hat, I mean, Georgia Brown ;) plays a crusading journalist who finds some key pieces of the puzzle, but is neither really central to the plot nor terribly likable. Diana Dors gives a loud and memorable performance as Mary’s mother, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s not the hero. Colonel Musta-ah, Bingham, is what the boys at would term the Designated Hero, since he appears to be the protagonist but doesn’t accomplish much. His interference does sort of indirectly spoil the baddies’ plan, and the fact that he A) gets Ashley involved and B) refuses to talk to the Cat in the Hat means that C) the Cat ends up talking to Ashley and setting him off on a trail that allows him to explain what’s going. I wish that I could say that the film at least allowed Lee to stretch himself as an actor but unfortunately he doesn’t do much except be bulldoggish and policemanly and wear really baaaaaad clothes. The high point of his performance comes fairly early on, when he tells Ashley to keep an eye on things. To indicate his displeasure at being bossed around, Cushing gives us his impression of the Connery Eyebrow Steeple Effect. At which Lee chuckles-or barks in amusement-and adds, “Please?” Sorry Lee fans, that’s as good as it gets here. 

From the above scene you might guess that Ashley is a superciliously brilliant mind, somewhat in the Frankenstein/Dr.Knox mold. However, you would be wrong: in between griping about the efforts of Bingham and Mary’s doctor to involve him, he’s revealed as a pretty genial sort who grins at the Colonel under minimal provocation and fairly beams when Mary takes notice of him. The net effect is of some perennial softie who’s having trouble keeping that New Year’s Resolution about not letting people take advantage of him. Which is pretty endearing if you like that sort of thing (I do), and certainly constitutes more of a personality than almost anyone else in the film, but gives the impression that kindly old Peter gave the Advanced Thespian Centers of his brain the week off when he shot this role. It also results in the strange spectacle of a pathologist-a specialist in the examination of corpses, as the film points out-whose bedside manner is nothing short of exquisite. 

Incidentally, Sasdy appears to be unaware that many of us consider the spectacle of an elderly gentleman mucking about w/ scientific equipment to be entertaining, and accordingly the Cushing in Lab scenes are pretty dull. Not a bad movie if you like medical thrillers or ever wondered what X-Files would’ve looked like if it had been invented by a bunch of fugitives from Hammer, but there are probably better ways of spending your money.


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* Lee called the film 'ahead of its time.'

* The possesed child is played by Gwyneth Strong, who would later go on to play Rodney's wife Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses


Peter Cushing: The Gentle Man of Horror and His 91 Films by Deborah Del Vecchio & Tom Johnson

The Dark Side # 83, January 2000