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Behind every great man there's a... witch!
on 7 October 2013
The 1962 film Night of the Eagle is based on the Fritz Leiber story Conjure Wife (first published in 1943) and stands as an original and intriguing example of how cinema treated the occult during the fifties and sixties, and almost attains the level of the handful of classics of the genre at that time. Known by the better title of Burn, Witch, Burn in the US, the story is driven along nicely by Sidney Hayer's taut direction, right from the eerie opening titles. The performances from all involved are more than acceptable if a little overwrought sometimes, although the eponymous eagle demon suffers from the primitive special effects (at one point a guide wire can be seen, thanks to the crisp, black and white, widescreen print).
Peter Wyngarde plays a sceptical professor of psychology who finds out his wife is a practising witch, who employs an eclectic collection of macabre `protections' to safeguard her ambitious husband from the evil machinations of those who seek to thwart his promotion at the college where he works. The conjurer wife may be content to bask in her husband's reflected glory but she also controls his every move, and she is played by Janet Blair (perhaps referenced by the Blair Witch Project released a few decades later) who previously had forged a singing and acting career on the American stage and screen, so Night of the Eagle was a rare dramatic role. Also stealing several scenes is Margaret Johnson, a doyen of the West End who also contributed to a slew of well-received British films from the forties to the sixties. Of Night and the Eagle, she later said she hated the role and the film, although she contributes so much its atmosphere.
Peter Wyngarde had appeared in The Innocents the year before, which is one of a small number of superior, intelligent, atmosphere-laden horror films of the age, as is Night of the Demon (1957), and The Haunting (1963). If there are any of these classics you haven't seen, I would watch one of those rather than Night of the Eagle, the main problem with which is that despite it being quite a good film, it really isn't very scary, and those of a nervous disposition can safely view it on their own, with the lights off, just before bedtime, and not miss a wink of sleep.