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DEAD OF NIGHT. (1945).

Just Room for One Inside Sir!

In recent years the Horror genre has certainly changed direction, we as audiences always seemed to be content to be scared out of out skin by the likes of Vampires, Mummy’s and Werewolves, but in more contemporary movies the frights shifted to coming from a more cerebral script and plot plus a lot more gore in the form of Zombies et, there are it seems no boundaries in contemporary movies, which at times is itself horrifying. Back in the late 1940,s audiences were still just literally a finger touch away from their first encounter with the infamous Count Dracula as depicted by Hammer films, and portrayed by Christopher Lee, but had been unsettled and perplexed by the likes of films such as Night of the Demon(1957) and nearly a decade before this the classic British horror Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was the precursor for many films, it is in my opinion the forerunner to movies such as Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, The House that Dripped blood and The Monster Club etc.

Dead of Night is an anthology, a collection of stories that are vaguely connected but only by a location where people meet at the beginning of the movie. At the time of the film being released it was something of a gamble for Ealing studios to produce a film such as this as during the war years films that were of the Horror variety were banned from being produced, so Ealing were treading on unfamiliar ground with Dead of Night, but it was a gamble that paid off as the film is probably one of the most successful British films from the 1940’s. Although the movie was essentially a horror picture, it did contain elements of comedy, which is what Ealing became more remembered for it pieces together a handful of unconnected storylines and characters.

That opens with a man driving to a cottage, when he arrives he is convinced that he has been there before and then tells the other guests that he has met them all before in a recurring dream which is more like a nightmare He  discusses his dream with the other guests most of which believe what he is saying but there is one a psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) who is more than skeptical, and explains away logically and scientifically what the man has experienced and is going through. But then each guest at the location tells their own story, each one of them including details of their encounter with the supernatural.

To be honest the majority of the stories are rather cliched but remember this was 1945, and if you did not watch Dead of Night before seeing the aforementioned films and others that were released after Dead of Night then it would seem rather old hat, but in fact it was this 1945 movie that was the inspiration for many of the stories and the film that other authors and filmmakers had borrowed from many times. The film opens with an architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) driving to a cottage in the countryside just outside of London, he is welcomed by the owner, Eliot Foley (Roland Culver), who introduces him the psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten (Frederic Valk), his friend Joan Cortland (Googie Withers), his young neighbour Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes) and a race car driver Hugh Grainger (Antony Baird). Craig tells his fellow guests at the cottage that he has the sensation of Déjà vu since he had had a nightmare with them in that house but one lady at this point is missing. However, Mrs. Foley (Mary Merrall) soon arrives completing the assembly of the characters in Walter’s dream.

So, the scene is as they say set four the quartet of tales that are to follow. Grainger had a car accident and then a premonition that saved his life; Sally had met a ghost during Christmas, Eliot and his wife had lived an evil experience with a haunted mirror, two golfers that love the same woman and decide to play for her hand in a game on the fairways, but one of them dies and haunts the other,

this was a more light hearted story within the anthology and paired Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne who had worked so well together in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.  

Dr. Van Straaten tells the story of a ventriloquist with double personality that is dominated by his dummy. But when Dr. Van Straaten accidentally breaks his glasses and the power goes out, the nightmare begins.

There are, two stories in the anthology that have to them an almost hypnotic attraction and stand out amongst all the tales, the first being about a mirror that when investigated reflects not the room behind the person in front of the mirror but a totally different one. The other is about a ventriloquist, who has a dual personality, and it is probably this section of the film that is remembered more than any other. Simply because it was and remains chilling and unsettling more than seventy years after it was first released. It is probably true to say that the Anthony Hopkins movie Magic drew a lot of its inspiration from this part of Dead of Night.  It is without any doubt a marvelously atmospheric and affecting film which contains some terrifying moments that are wonderfully acted out and superbly directed. Being an anthology there were four directors, one for each story in the movie, Alberto Cavalcanti (as Cavalcanti), Charles Chrichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer, were behind the camera each one bringing their own inimitable style and creativity to the production.  

The musical score was by French born composer George Auric, who also became a music critic, he scored several movies for Ealing studios, many of them such as Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob, Hue and Cry, and The Titfield Thunderbolt, becoming firm favourites of cinema audiences and soon attaining that classic label.

Georges Auric.

But he was not under contract to score just films produced by British studios, the composer wrote the soundtracks for a wide variety of movies and worked in France including Beauty and the Beast. Auric also wrote a suitably majestic and romantic soundtrack for Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945, as well as scoring Moulin Rouge for director John Houston. In 1961 the composer produced a superb score for The Innocents which had a screenplay adapted from the story The Turn of the Screw. directed by Jack Clayton, the film starred Deborah Kerr. He displayed a great versatility in his work and specifically within his film scores and excelled when writing for comedies in particular, the composer seemed to be able to purvey the correct amount of comedic tone but also had the ability to incorporate more romantic and melancholy sounding themes into his soundtracks. Passport To Pimlico is probably one of his better known Ealing comedies, the composer fashioning a not only highly enhancing work but an entertaining one, that in later years when sections were re-recorded took on a life all of their own away from the images on screen, but re-kindled fond memories of the movie and its stars.

George Auric was born in Lodeve Herault in France on February 15th 1899, he was associated and considered to be one of Les Six which was a group of artists who worked with and were mentored by Erike Satie and Jean Cocteau. Auric was a prolific composer and also an arranger and orchestrater. Before the composer had reached his twenties, he had already orchestrated and composed music for ballets and stage productions. Which would stand him in good stead when he began to write for the motion picture industry. His involvement with music began at an early age, he would perform piano recitals when he was twelve years of age and several of his songs were performed as he reached his teens at The Societe Nationale de Musique.

Auric also studied at the Paris Conservatory and was schooled in composition by Vincent D’Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum de Paris. Auric was a recognised child prodigy and because of his abundant talent became the protégé of Erik Satie, from 1910 through to 1920, he contributed many pieces to the world of Avant-garde music in the French capital. It was in the 1930.s that the composer began to write for film, scoring the movie A Nous La Liberte in 1931, the movie itself was criticised heavily for its communist themes, but the score that Auric penned was well received. In 1931 he composed a piano sonata which was It seemed at one point that although the composer’s music for films was being applauded his music for the concert hall was entering a period of stagnation, his 1931 piano sonata received very little recognition and this led the composer to enter into a five year period where he wrote very little apart from three film scores. The composer’s friendship with Cocteau continued during this period and Auric penned the score for his Le Sang D’Un Poete. But by 1935 had decided to write for what he called a younger audience and began to compose music that he thought would reach a more general audience rather than the elitist few he had been previously associated with. He also began to attempt to express his own political views via the way he wrote music, and between 1935 and 1945 worked on a variety of pictures all of which were French language productions, these included. The Mysteries of Paris (1935), The Messenger, The Red Dancer The Alibi, (1937) The Lafarge Case (1938), Beautiful Adventure (1942) and Francois Villon (1945). It was in 1945 that he began to score British movies his first being Dead of Night. The rest as they say is history. Auric died on the 23rd July 1983.

I was always attracted to the music of Georges Auric; I think it was because his use of solo trumpet within his scores and also the way that he combined strings and brass, the composer creating wonderful melodies as well as fashioning atmospheric music that underlined, elevated, and punctuated each storyline adding depth and bringing to them a greater dimension. The composer had a style which I considered to be rather like that of Walton, but at times when required he could adapt and alter his style, with the sound achieved becoming a little more flamboyant, lighthearted, thematic and haunting. This approach was conveyed perfectly in his score for Dead of Night.

The score for the anthology was a little harsher for the most part than we normally got from Auric, with rasping brass, flyaway woods, and thundering and at times abrasive sounding percussive support throughout, the combination of brass and percussion augmented by the string section purveyed a sense of urgency and a feeling of uncertainty and dread. With the strings at times bursting into a melodious piece that delivered a more re-assuring air. Auric’s score was not released as far as I can see, because at the time of the film being in cinemas soundtrack releases were mostly unheard of unless the score contained a popular song or composition, as in the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight which contained The Warsaw Concerto by Richard Adinsell. But there is a suite from the movie included on The Film Music of Georges Auric which is released on Chandos records, and available on digital platforms along with many re-recordings of the composers works for cinema.

Main titles and end theme.

Dead of Night was an original and inventive collection of horror tales that became the source of inspiration for so many movies and TV shows that were to follow, The Twilight Zone, Tales from The Crypt, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie amongst them, where the screenplay discloses a core story that unfolds into segments. The final twist in the film is totally unexpected and a plus in this great British piece of cinema that is a classic. Surprisingly American distributors decided that the original print of the movie was too long. Therefore, the golfing tale and the Christmas ghost tale were cut completely. This left American audiences confused because they could not understand what Michael Allen, from the Christmas ghost tale, was doing in the nightmare montage at the end of the movie.