Why does CineSavant write so many positive reviews, even for films not commonly thought of as even being ‘good?’ Well, I’m about to offend committed fans of this Hayley Mills thriller… it bothered me in such basic ways that I had to watch it twice to make sure I hadn’t missed something important. Hayley Mills loves Hywel Bennett, a poor boy who gets a chance at the good life. But are they going to be victimized by envious relations, murderous gypsies, a deranged architect? The big superduper plus here is the film’s original music score by Bernard Herrman, one of his last.
Region B Blu-ray
1972 / Color B&W / 1:85 widescreen / 100 min. / / Street Date , 2020 / available from Powerhouse Films UK / £15.99
Starring: Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Britt Ekland, Per Oscarsson, George Sanders, Lois Maxwell, Patience Collier, Ann Way, Leo Genn, Shirley Jones (voice).
Cinematography: Harry Waxman
Film Editor: Thelma Connell
Original Music: Bernard Herrmann
Based on a novel by Agatha Christie
Produced by Leslie Gilliat
Written and Directed by Sidney Gilliat
We love Hayley Mills, and wish she made more good movies as an adult. One would think she’d have been perfectly connected to pick and choose her film projects more carefully. In 1972, her sister Juliet Mills was a delight in the wonderful Avanti! That picture wasn’t a success, but Billy Wilder fans embraced it from the get-go. Meanwhile, sister Hayley was poorly used in the odd Agatha Christie story Endless Night, once again co-starring with Hywel Bennett.
Endless Night can boast one of Bernard Herrmann’s final movie scores, one that’s never been available on records or discs; that’ll be all that many fans will need to give it a try. It’s got a song that shares lyrics with The Doors’ End of the Night. Jim Morrison used only three lines of a poem by William Blake. The song here is sung by star Hayley Mills, but with her voice dubbed by Shirley Jones. The aural mismatch is headache-inducing.
The basic takeaway from Endless Night is that the movie was a job of work, a deal made at a time when the English film industry was in shambles. Produced by British Lion, the film was so thoroughly demolished by the critics that it didn’t find an American distributor. British Lion also released the ill-fated The Wicker Man; I confess that my first thought after seeing Endless, is that I wished its original negative had ended up buried under a highway, instead of Robin Hardy’s celebrated horror picture.
Endless Night put an end to the career of a Brit film veteran. Writer-director Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder had success together and separately, with impressive credits on The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, Night Train to Munich, I See a Dark Stranger and Green for Danger, just to mention the few I’ve reviewed.
But I have a hard time coming up with positive remarks on Endless Night, except that Ms. Mills is as attractive as usual. I’m not sure I’ve seen such an undigested mystery thriller; it doesn’t even have the basic appeal of so-so Agatha Christie adaptations. The ‘big surprise’ story revelation plays like a mistake. It doesn’t make us re-appraise what’s gone on before — what’s previously transpired instead proves to have been an exercise in misdirection. We throw our hands up in defeat. Suddenly, we’re in M. Night Shyamalan country.
Endless Night idles along for what seems forever while we wait for a real story to get going. The leading man offers a past-tense narration, talking about his out-of-reach ambitions, which finally come true. Unhappy low-achiever Michael Rodgers (Hywel Bennett) drifts from job to job. His mother (Madge Ryan) worries about his attitude, which combines a snobbish refinement with a disdain for rich people. We meet the penniless Michael as he entertains himself bidding at a high-end auction, gambling that someone will always outbid him. He finds value in the notion that, while his bids are in play, he ‘owns’ the artwork being auctioned. Michael’s stint as a chauffeur comes to an end in Europe, after he refuses to take a customer to the local red-light district. But Michael meets the famous, sickly architect Rudolf Santonix (Per Oscarsson of Hunger), who likes Michael’s obsessive fantasy about a super-house he wants to build some day, when he gets rich. Michael even has the dream location picked out — a place called Gypsy Acre.
While wandering about his dream construction location Michael meets the sweet Ellie Thomsen (Hayley Mills), and they fall in love. Ellie hides the fact that she’s the heir to a fabulous fortune, which enrages Michael — he assumes that means they can have no future together. But the independent and devoted Ellie defies her guardians and marries Michael. They couple engage Santonix, who says his days are numbered, to build the futuristic dream house. Michael begins his dream job of running an antiques store. Various things soon impinge on the newlyweds’ happiness. Various less-fortunate relatives make a point of hanging around Gypsy Acre. A local woman rumored to be mad confronts the newlyweds with predictions of death and doom. Ellie’s old secretary/companion Greta (Britt Ekland) visits. She’s attractive and provocative, and for a while causes considerable marital tension. Ellie is crestfallen that the two most important people in her life, Michael and Greta, don’t get along with each other.
Oh, eventually there’s a murder! This Agatha Christie doesn’t define itself until almost the last reel. It’s not a detective story, and it even drops hints of the supernatural. The original poster art used on the cover shows a Mills terrorized by a creepy image of Bennett. Yet the movie has nothing in common with their previous psycho-stalker drama Twisted Nerve.
Sidney Gilliat appears to have retained intact the contours of the source book. This leaves him with a structure that doesn’t play well: no matter who is telling the story, what we see and hear is objective. When the narrator deceives us, Endless chooses to tell the story selectively, leaving out all the parts that might show us the truth. Several of the relationships we see are a complete lie, to us, to the characters, to the story itself. Because we’ve been with Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett long enough to care about them, it is frustrating to find out that that what’s gone before is all a narrative evasion.
We’re also frustrated to see the beloved Hayley Mills in yet another ‘adult’ role that she never should have accepted. It’s more or less the end of her career as a leading player in features. She’s almost a supporting character, as the show really belongs to Hywel Bennett’s Michael. Bennett pretty much took a swan dive from leading roles at the same time, with the trashy comedy Percy not doing him any good. He had made The Family Way and the reasonably commercial Twisted Nerve with Mills and Roy Boulting, another member of the Old Guard of English directing. Bennett would do fine character work; I admired his impressive appearance in the original TV production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The supporting cast consists mainly of irritating Red Herrings — Britt Ekland’s amorous free spirit, George Sanders’ family attorney, and Lois Maxwell as a jealous relative. Ann Way from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has a face one never forgets, so serves as sort of a visual red herring. Patience Collier’s faux-spooky eccentric neighbor sticks out as a hoary plot device. Per Oscarsson’s architect comes off as a potential trick character as well. He keeps saying that he’s in failing health. It is axiomatic in mystery thrillers, that a person claiming to be near death is faking it. If someone shows up in a wheelchair, they will likely later be caught walking around. Any dead person whose body can’t be recovered, will magically reappear alive and well in the final act. Even Jim Thompson overused that one.
Most of Endless Night dutifully sets up and abandons these mystery clichés, one after another. We wait patiently for a plot complication to finally give the storyline a coherent shape. Is there something fishy about Ellie’s fortune? Is that kooky neighbor lady a closet arsonist? Don’t bother to worry about such things, for nothing comes of them. A viewer that starts watching the movie when the Big Murder finally occurs, will be as informed as we who watched from the beginning. They’ll only miss the entire performance of a leading character, and a lot of expressive music by Bernard Herrmann.
One appealing story aspect is the super-duper house that Oscarsson’s Santonix builds for the couple at Gypsy Acre. After being so anal about his requirements, Michael doesn’t even stick around to monitor the construction of his dream house. Santonix builds it for them while they’re away. When the house simply appears fully finished and landscaped, it doesn’t seem real. It is so perfect, we almost think Michael and Santonix (Satan?) have some kind of weird pact going, a Deal with the Devil, perhaps. Believe me, at that point way deep in the story, we still don’t have a clue this movie is going, and getting there isn’t all that rewarding. We’re grasping at straws.
Even the futuristic element lets us down. The house’s large glass windows can be made into one-way mirrors with the push of a button. That feature plays like a science fiction gimmick designed to motivate a major plot point to come, as when ‘Q’ shows James Bond a new gadget. In keeping with the general disregard for narrative economy, the one-way mirror business amounts to nothing.
Endless Night does at least make us curious to know if its shapeless story will find a decent resolution. Hayley Mills is always agreeable, even if she doesn’t display any new talents as an adult actress — her ‘dance of joy’ in a grassy hill at Gypsy Acre isn’t particularly inspiring. And it’s at least a little interesting to see Hywel Bennett show some charm for once. At least initially, we want to see Michael overcome his bitterness, and succeed.
But I’m guessing that the film’s biggest draw will be its music score by Bernard Herrmann. In the 1970s Herrmann was mainly trying to keep working. He experimented with more modern forms, while recycling his Hitchcock styles for Brian DePalma’s derivative shock & suspense shows Sisters and Obsession. Gilliat’s Endless is basically a bizarre romance, so even with some electronic cues, Herrmann plays much of it in classical lush mode. When Bennett and Mills run through the hills and embrace in defiance of her family, Herrmann’s swooning orchestrations recall The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and even Vertigo. As many Bernard Herrmann fans have memorized everything he’s done, the prospect of discovering an unfamiliar score is a definite point of attraction. What a shame that the great composer’s work, as good as it is, still can’t hold this show together.
Powerhouse Indicator’s Region B Blu-ray of Endless Night gives us a movie that’s been out in various formats but has surely never looked this good. It is newly restored, with a 4K scan and mono audio. Beautifully filmed and finished, the show has scenes filmed in Italy and in the beautiful valley that Michael Rogers has picked for his future dream house.
PI showers the disc with worthy extras — a long audio interview with Sidney Gilliat from 1990, and another hour-long audio interview with Bernard Herrmann. A new video interview piece with Hayley Mills is here, and Howard Blake and Neil Sinyard have separate featurettes addressing different aspects of Bernard Herrmann. Add to that trailers, image galleries, and an illustrated insert booklet with an essay by Anne Billson and older writings by Frank Launder and Gilliat.
A domestic Region A disc of Endless Night is due soon from Kino Lorber, presumably with a different set of extras.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Region B Blu-ray rates:
Supplements (from Powerhouse Indicator): The BEHP Interview with Sidney Gilliat (1990, 100 mins): archival audio recording, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the accomplished writer and director in conversation with Roy Fowler and Taffy Haines; The John Player Lecture with Bernard Herrmann (1972, 53 mins): the renowned composer in conversation at London’s National Film Theatre; A Full House (2020, 8 mins): interview with celebrated actor Hayley Mills; Endless Notes (2020, 13 mins): composer and musician Howard Blake recalls working with Herrmann; Emotional Turbulence (2020, 16 mins): appreciation of Herrmann’s late career by author and historian Neil Sinyard. Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography, Original theatrical trailer. Limited edition 36-page booklet with a new essay by Anne Billson, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, an archival interview with Gilliat, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: February 16, 2020
Text © Copyright 2020 Glenn Erickson