Monday, August 1, 2022

Little Orphan Mary


Has there ever been a film duo more perfect than Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? 

You don't have to answer. We know. 

Quick Plot: A trio of older, incredibly wealthy Brits are murdered in careful manners that leave their cause open to accident or suicide. Meanwhile, a school bus filled with sinfully noisy Scottish orphans is derailed, perhaps by a justifiably grumper driver, perhaps as a continuation of the conspiracy, or maybe because one of the injured is Mary Harb, the daughter of an infamous murderess. 

Mary is recovering under the care of Dr. Peter Haynes, a caring psychiatrist who senses his young patient is in grave danger. Lucky for everyone, his supervisor Mark is played by Peter Cushing so naturally, Mark's best pal is a semi-retired but very competent Col. Bigham and obviously, he's gloriously inhabited by the towering perfection that is the late Christopher Lee.

Bingham knows that so many related untimely deaths are no mere coincidence. As he continues his investigation, Dr. Haynes strikes up a gratifying (in multiple ways) relationship with Joan Foster, a journalist working to explore the story of Mary's birth mother, Anna Harb. 

A glorious angry redhead ex-con, Anna wants her child back and might be willing to murder a few other orphans and doctors to do so. Or maybe these charitable millionaires have some homicidal plans of their own. It's a mystery!

A delightful one, to be sure. Based on John Blackburn's novel and directed by Countess Dracula (and more excitingly, I Don't Want to Be Born!)'s Peter Sasdy, Nothing But the Night is a crafty little thriller filled with dynamic characters and sharp twists. Even the score makes for a jaunty watch, playfully toying with children's tunes one moment then smoothing out a sexy saxophone to amp the romance in the next. 

I won't spoil the weird, wonderful ending, but it must have been a shock in 1973. It may have even given a certain celebrated comedian-turned-great-horror-filmmaker a few good ideas. With that and the Cushing/Lee blessing, I'm fairly shocked that Nothing But the Night doesn't seem to have the fanbase it deserves. 

Maybe it's the contemporary setting, or that this isn't an official Hammer studio production, or that the horror seems to lean more into mystery novel than supernatural for most of its run. Whatever the reason, it ends today: Nothing But the Night is a surprising little joy. Go get it. 

High Points

Perhaps it's that Brian Hayles' screenplay has a whole novel to pull from, but it's incredibly refreshing to see how almost all of the adult characters are so clearly drawn and fully fleshed out in a story-heavy 90-minute film. Granted, all Christopher Lee really needs to do is show up and the audience is enthralled by his very presence, but his Bingham is somehow immediately recognizable, while Georgia Brown's Joan and Keith Barron's Peter create fully dynamic professionals whose brief chemistry helps to make a quick subplot pop

Low Points

How is it possible to throw in a reference of a famous triple murder but never actually explain the details? And yes, really, I'm just formally requesting a prequel about the glorious Anna Harb

Lessons Learned

A prostate gland treatment is hardly the end of the world

12 is a perfectly adequate amount of men

"Scattergun" and "knocking pen" are very common American terms (that I've personally never heard in my apparently not-so-American life)


At the time I watched Nothing But the Night, it was on but leaving Amazon Prime. I would imagine it's since moved to another streaming site, so do some Googling and grab it. You won't be disappointed. 

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