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on 18 April 2012
In 1972, Christopher Lee, increasingly frustrated with the glut of one-dimensional horror roles he was routinely offered, set about creating his own production company with the assistance of Hammer veteran Anthony Nelson Keys. Given the title Charlemagne Productions after Lee's famous ancestor, this new firm was supposed to provide him with some worthy starring vehicles, but due to the quicksand-like state of the British film industry in the 1970s, it was eventually responsible for just one movie, an adaptation of a little-known novel by John Blackburn entitled Nothing But the Night.
The plot sees Lee's bullish Colonel Bingham, a big cheese in MI5, or Scotland Yard's Special Branch, or something, investigating a series of inexplicable deaths linked to an offshore Scottish orphanage with the help of his friend, eminent pathologist Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing). After a weird incident on a coach filled with the orphanage's children leaves the driver dead and one young girl (Gwyneth Strong, later Cassandra in Only Fools and Horses) with what appears to be amnesia, things begin to take a more sinister turn...
Admittedly, it appears that this modest horror-thriller had production difficulties from the very start; originally set to be helmed by Don Sharp (who worked with Lee on the likes of 1965's Rasputin, the Mad Monk), the directing duties were eventually assigned to Taste the Blood of Dracula's Peter Sasdy, but the talented Hungarian's efforts here do not match those on his well-regarded 1969 Lee / Hammer vampire sequel. The shoot, which involved much location work, was hampered by the fact that the tight budget didn't run to a second unit, whilst the filming schedule was beset with bad weather. The screenplay is incredibly tedious and takes a very long time to get nowhere in particular, whilst the performances lack a bit of vim as well.
Lee, attempting to break out of his perceived typecasting as an urbane villain, here plays the movie's ostensible `good guy' and comes a right cropper in the process; he somehow manages to make Bingham, no more than a thinly-written dullard in the script, into an objectionable, impatient loud-mouth. Lee had played irritable, but essentially decent, heroes before (1964's The Gorgon comes to mind), but none were as downright unappealing as his character here. Cushing fares a little better; his part is just as much of a cipher as Lee's, but he gets by on the fact that he's playing strictly to type, giving yet another airing to his familiar `investigative scientist' horror movie persona, though he certainly did it more compellingly in many other films. Because of all this, Nothing But the Night is probably one of the least worthy Cushing / Lee pairings, certainly ranking below such other 1970s team-ups as Horror Express or The Creeping Flesh.
The supporting players are similarly weak. Strong gives a reasonable performance for such a young actress, but portraying her abusive, ex-prostitute mother, Diana Dors (a long, long way from her 1950s glory days as the `British Marilyn Monroe') gives a hideously hammy and grotesquely incongruous turn; all big hair and bad language, she's the horror movie equivalent of Renée Houston in Carry On At Your Convenience, and she's also central to the movie's most unintentionally hilarious sequence, in which, decked out in a bright red anorak and a ginger bouffant, she manages to hide from a police helicopter in the middle of some Scottish scrubland. Singer-actress Georgia Brown is okay as a reporter tagging along with Cushing and Lee, but it's a good thing her excruciatingly pointless `romantic' subplot with Duty Free's Keith Barron (playing Cushing's junior colleague) is unexpectedly knocked on the head less than halfway through the film. In minor roles as local coppers, Porridge's Fulton Mackay and a then-unknown Michael Gambon prop up the bottom of the cast list, whilst fans of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger might like to look out for Black Narcissus' Kathleen Byron, who turns up as one of the orphanage's mysterious trustees.
As previously stated, the poorer aspects of this movie outweigh the good ones, but in all fairness there are some points of interest. Barron's unexpected exit from the story is a welcome surprise, and the later discovery of a murdered little boy has a satisfyingly nasty kick to it. Also, the climax is offbeat enough to withstand inevitable comparisons to the final scene of The Wicker Man, the much more famous chiller Lee would star in the following year. Nothing But the Night might not be the train wreck it is often referred to as in many reviews, and if you are a fan of Lee and Cushing you may enjoy the film, but don't bank on it.
The 2012 DVD release will be the first chance many in the UK will have to view Nothing But the Night, as it crashed and burned at the box office on its original cinema run, and hasn't been seen on British TV in many years. Though the DVD has a clear full-screen transfer, it lacks extra features of any description, and whilst I'm not sure that the movie is worthy of all that much attention, it still would have been a nice bonus if a few of the surviving participants had been invited to take part in a commentary recording. At the time of writing, Sasdy, Strong, Barron, Gambon, and Lee himself are all still around, and given Lee's previous involvement in DVD commentary tracks for minor movies like The City of the Dead and Night of the Big Heat, I'm sure he would have liked to get some remarks regarding his only film as a producer on record.
66 comments38 of 43 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it's not surprising that 1973's Nothing But the Night was the only film made by the production company set up by Lee and veteran Hammer producer Anthony Nelson Keys to try to inject some new life into the then-as-ever failing British film industry. You can see that on one level it's a vaguely ambitious attempt to do something a bit different, but it's not a terribly compelling mystery and its horrific undertones are played down for most of the running time, with director Peter Sasdy doing a professional but rather flat job of it.

For much of the film it's a fairly ambling investigation into a fatal coach crash that may have been intended to kill the rich trustees of an orphanage on a remote Scottish island who have recently been dropping like flies but which instead ended up killing the driver and hospitalising one of their charges who turns out to be central to the would-be mysterious goings on (Gwyneth Strong, who would grow up to marry Rodney in Only Fools and Horses). Keith Barron's doctor thinks she's too psychologically disturbed to be returned, Lee's pompous and obnoxious semi-retired detective thinks she's just collateral damage, George Brown's confrontational reporter thinks her nightmares may hold the key to it all and Cushing's pathologist is largely just there to listen to everybody else's theories while suspicion is cast heavy-handedly on the girl's ex-prostitute natural mother (Diana Dors) who helpfully has already done time for murder.

Yet the threat is rather vague for much of the film even after a couple of dead bodies turn up and there's no-one to really root for thanks to cardboard characterisation and misjudged performances. The two leads are both on grumpy form that allows neither to shine and Brown's aggressive turn isn't going out of her way to win over any of the audience either: at times it's as if all three are trying to win a Who Can Be The Most Unsympathetic competition. As a result the film leans far too heavily on a shock ending that's slightly Wickerish, involving as it does Christopher Lee and another deadly bonfire, but to preserve the surprise (which was given away anyway by the film's alternate US title) the screenplay goes out of its way not to introduce any of the more interesting ideas until the last 15 minutes of the film despite one pretty big early hint on a hospital door. Nor is the journey to those last 15 minutes particularly interesting, not helped by the attempt to inject some tension by intercutting Dors evading police helicopters, a small army of search parties and the obligatory unobservant sentries as she makes her way to the orphanage in a bright red coat that sticks out a mile. Even the final potentially shocking image becomes absurd because, while you can understand why one character does what they do, there's simply no logical reason for the others to follow suit.

A few interesting faces pop up in the supporting cast, like Duncan Lamont, Fulton Mackay and a debuting Michael Gambon among the Scottish constabulary, and one-time TV Professor Quatermass John Robinson and Black Narcissus' Kathleen Byron among the orphanage trustees, but the end result is definitely a lesser and uninvolving slice of Seventies British horror.

While the UK PAL DVD is extras-free, the US NTSC disc offers a decent widescreen transfer that also includes the original trailer, production notes and a fairly informative introduction by wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters as well as trailers for The Devil Within Her, Humongous, Final Exam and The Incubus.
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on 2 July 2012
It's a shame that this didn't do too well at the box office. It's what might have been for Cushing and Lee in their best pairing (storywise) of the seventies. The film sticks fairly closely to the exciting and innovative novel by the great John Blackburn. If this film had done better box office, we might have seen a screen version of 'Bury Him Darkly' another horror/sci-fi/ancient evil cocktail and the best of Blackburn's output. Now that there is only Hollywood knocking out films, best lost forever than have them ruin that. Peter Sasdy is the Director who must be drawn to 'ancient evil' mixed with sci-fi stories, because the previous year he directed Nigel Kneale's 'The Stone Tape' and a big screen version of 'Doomwatch'. Nothing But The Night has a flavour of the Wicker Man about it, without the futility and the isolation. There's a stalwart crew of British actors backing up the two main protagonists like Keith Barron, Fulton Mackay and completing the Kneale link, ex-Quatermass, John Robinson. If you like to see Cushing and Lee both playing the good guys for a change, this is the film for you.
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on 5 March 2012
I was pleasantly surprised by this dvd having seen the film once years ago on TV. Yes it's a low budget 70s movie which you're only going to watch if you're a fan of Cushing and/or Lee, but compared to some of their other non-Hammer efforts it isn't bad.

The Scottish setting and centrality of children to the plot are reminiscent of The Wicker Man though that's film splendid ending is not matched here. The location shooting is good and adds to the atmosphere, but as so often with these movies the ideas slightly outstretch the budget and execution.

Tha cast is impressive - Michael Gambon ,Fulton Mackay,Keith Barron and Diana Dors.

All in all one for fans of 70s British horror and the two leading stars of the genre.
0Comment11 of 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Not seen for far too long (Why? And why isn't this released in the U/K Region 2?), This unpretentious horror/mystery/thriller works on most levels. Perhaps the ending is a bit much to take, but otherwise it's a good watch, with the usual professional perfs from Lee and Cushing, ably abetted by Dors, Keith Barron, and the much underused Georgia Brown. Gwyneth Strong makes a good debut and impresses as "Mary" a crucial role in an unusual plot. The print is good (1.78:1 Anamorphic it says), plus good colour and sound. You get the opportunity to watch the film with a surprisingly intersteing 5' intro from Katarina Leigh Walters...(It says she is "Former WWE DVIA (sic) and CURRENT TNA KNOCKOUT so that's allright then-she can intro any film for me, and the facts are good - Some of you will know about this film already, others, like me, found her remarks useful). I recomend this film and almost gave it 5 stars, but i'ts not quite that good. Price is good tho, so take a chance and if you have never seen it I don't think you will be disapointed.
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on 30 October 2014
Got this as I remember it from the cinema 41 years ago and was pleasantly surprised to find it now available on DVD. Though it has dated a little I still found it watchable and it was good to see Messrs Cushing and Lee again in slightly different types of role from their joint Hammer ventures.
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on 24 July 2014
A very good film where Christopher Lee plays a police inspector other than the frightening dracula. Peter Cushing the surgeon, investigate a number of mysterious seats. Diana Doors who plays a prostitute falls tragically in the limelight. An extraordinary ending and a very good horror film.
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on 4 December 2012
Why was it that this film took so long to be released on DVD? It has all the ingredients of a classic, a good cast, and a Wickerish Scottish Island to boot.

The reason may be this: somehow this film doesn't make the grade. For the most part it plays out as a serious, modern whodunnit thriller, leading one to expect a satisfactory resolution to the mystery by the end of the film. As the film reaches its final half hour though, a suspicion grows that the plot is going to let the side down. And it does.

Silly hokum has an honoured place in British horror films, but it has to be used in the right film and in the right context. The ending offered here does not do justice to the performances and the production values on display. You don't watch a Bond film and expect to have the villain revealed to be a glove puppet, nor should you be expected to tolerate the similarly disappointing denouement foist upon you here. A missed opportunity.
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on 12 April 2014
Good picture and sound quality.I did have a copy version of this film on disc, but the picture and sound were poor. So yes full marks for this film. I did recommend it to my son.
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on 14 July 2014
A reasonable first (and last) effort from this production company.
Nice to see Christopher Lee playing the good guy but I think that Diana Doors was mis cast in this film.
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