Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nope, I Can't Escape February Without A Dummy Attack

The 1940s are easily my biggest blind spot when it comes to cinema, particularly of the genre persuasion. Save for a few Val Lewton gems, I've seen virtually nothing from those years, so any chance to expand upon that is welcome. But I'll be honest about something:

I didn't know Dead of Night had a ventriloquist's dummy.

And I am not happy about that one bit.

Quick Plot: An architect drives out to a country home for a weekend design job only to immediately realize the bevy of socialites gathered there have been appearing regularly in his nightmares, despite the fact that he hasn't met a single one. Through cigarette smoke and '40s style chatter, the sextet begins to share their own personal stories of the supernatural.

That's right folks: it's an anthology!

Here's what we've got:

-Story 1 is the traditional "room for one more" tale as an injured racecar driver constantly sees a hearse driver with an ominous message
-Next up is a good old fashioned child ghost yarn set in a spooky but crowded house at a festive Christmas party
-Story 3 follows a wealthy woman's poor decision in buying her beloved a haunted wall mirror that once witnessed a violent crime. This story is the best thing in the world for two reasons:

1. It gives us such wonderfully aristocratic dialogue as "What do you want to do tonight? Dress up? Spend a lot of money?"


2. The lead wears a different headpiece in EVERY SINGLE SCENE. I know, I know. You're thinking "but it's one segment in an anthology, how many scenes can there be?" Well, as many scenes as there were fabulous headpieces in the costume shop's trunk.

-In the fourth tale, a pair of cheekily competitive golfers makes a friendly wager that involves the loser surrendering his lady love and drowning himself in a nearby lake, only to return to happily haunt the victorious (and cheating) newlywed. It's a strange blend of light-hearted comedy and, you know, the tale of suicide and ghostings.

-Finally, we get to The Worst Thing In the World: Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist with a misbehaving dummy named Hugo.

I don't want to talk about it, even if this IS February's Attack of the Shorties.

In my 31 years on this planet, there a few lessons I've picked up. Perhaps the most life-saving ones are thus:

There are only two things in this world to fear: ventriloquist's dummies and caterpillars.

The sight of both instantly shrivel me into the fetal position, leaking a steady stream of urine and tears in what can only qualify as an exceedingly slippery floor environment.

You'd think Dead of Night being made in 1945 would help diminish that fear a tad. Hugo may speak like a helium-high scoundrel, but, well, he's just a typical black and white wooden doll whose movements can only be manipulated so much! you say, as if you have ANY understanding of the ancient evil arts.

Ventriloquist's dummies are never, without pretty much any exception ever, not evil. Even Pee-Wee Hermann knew this! 

Back on the impossible track that is resisting the urge to lock myself in a closet and instead discuss the movie: it's good. Perhaps because my 1940s film experience is so bare, even the fast-paced dialogue and highly mannered speaking feels fresh and different. None of the stories go on too long, and if they threaten to, such a crime is easily excused because LOOK AT THOSE FABULOUS HATS!

But the movie also features a dummy. A high-pitched voice dummy that does terrible things.

It's hard to forgive something like that.

High Points

Low Points

Lessons learned
It’s jolly unpleasant when you find yourself smack up against the supernatural

Because a chap becomes a ghost surely doesn’t mean he’s no longer a gentleman

If you're wealthy, 'curious' and 'tragic' essentially mean the same thing

Long out of print, Dead of Night is well worth watching both for its pedigree as an early anthology and because it's simply a good movie. Even though it has a dummy. A dummy that is probably plotting in his little soprano voice an elaborate routine to torture me, singing and making vaudvillian puns throughout the process.

I am not happy about this.


  1. I like the sequence at the end where all the storys seem to 'meld' and become 'as one' (as it were), just like a real dream would be.

  2. Yo Emily, I plan on reviewing something far more terrifying to you dollwise than Dead of night! It involves a time-travelling genocidal dictator from the 51st century who needs the blood of young women to stay alive, an evil magician, evil, alien, Chinese ventriloquists dummy robot whose speciality in murder is knives! haha! Oh, and adorably fake giant rats!