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KAREL REISZ RETROSPECTIVE AT THE CHISWICK CINEMA IN MARCH 

  • April 5, 2023
  • 5 min read
KAREL REISZ RETROSPECTIVE AT THE CHISWICK CINEMA IN MARCH 

For the past month of Sundays, The Chiswick Cinema has been screening a season of films celebrating the work of the late British film director, Karel Reisz. Organised in conjunction with Reisz’s son Matthew and film critic Phillip Bergson. This was an opposite take from the time-honoured metaphor, ‘It went on for a month of Sundays!’

This season had after show Q & A’s with cast members who are literally screen legends, namely Vanessa Redgrave and Susan Hampshire, alongside film director Stephen Frears, and screenwriter-broadcaster Melvyn Bragg. All there to witness the director’s 1960’s output, beginning with the documentary We are the Lambeth Boys and feature films Saturday Night & Sunday MorningMorgan a Suitable Case for Treatment and the rarity Night Must Fall. 

A LOST BRITISH ‘NOIR’ REDISCOVERED 

Night Must Fall was released in 1964 in monochrome. It was based on Emlyn Williams 1935 play, which was later made into a 1937 traditional Drawing Room suspense drama. Here Clive Exton’s script changes some of the plot, and the conclusion of the original. Reisz then turns his movie into a dark ‘film noir’ thriller. Meant to be set in Wales, the feel of the locations, and cast, is more English Home Counties in terms of dialect, plus scene, and settings. Welsh Danny being the exception. 

From the get go, Danny (Albert Finney), is revealed to be an axe murderer. He is seen dumping a body under pond weeds, before tossing the axe into the centre of a lake. His character is updated here to be a ‘Jack-The-Lad’, who rides a scooter at the height of the 1960’s Mod era. He chases the debutante daughter, Olivia (Susan Hampshire), seen driving her open top Mini Minor across the lawn of the posh country pile. A large house where he insinuates himself as hired Butler-Gardener to Olivia’s wheelchair bound Mother, Mrs Bramson (Mona Washbourne). Meanwhile, the plain Jane maid, Dora (Sheila Hancock), has become pregnant by Danny who is clearly hell bent on playing-away with Bramson’s daughter, while charming her mother, and ridiculing the maid.  

Still living in the wake of Hitchcock’s Psycho this film is in many ways a very British take on that movie. There is even a shower head scene in homage to Hitch’s masterpiece. Finney’s Danny metamorphoses from manservant to surrogate-son of Mrs Bramson. Danny then reveals his inner pathological psychosis with a chilling spirit of menace. One might ask is this ‘why’ this film is currently unavailable on download, streaming services, and blu-ray? The answer may well lie with Warners who do currently stream the key scene of the movie on You tube.  *A spoiler alert if you wish to seek-out this film first!

INFLUENCING INTERNATIONAL CINEMA 

The wider influence of Night Must Fall is immense. The aforementioned scene clearly forms the basis of the central two characters in Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle. More importantly, the behind-the-scenes film crew that Producer-Star Finney and Director Reisz ingathered, truly beggar’s belief. Therein lie clues to the film’s visual technique and on-screen invention. Not least in the shape of The Director of Cinematography, the Lighting Cameraman, Freddie Francis BSC. Francis shot Reisz’s previous movie Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, also starring Finney, and later Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The lighting and visual style, however, does not replicate those films, but more so Francis’s own work in the shape of two of his overlooked black-and-white Hammer horror films, namely Nightmare and Paranoiac, which he shot and directed within a similar timeframe to this film. How good are these films? David Lynch screened Night Must Fall and the two Hammers when choosing Francis to shoot Elephant Man. Freddie Francis was that good! 

Some say that true filmmaking is wholly a product of teamwork. This film reflects that ethos. 

Freddie Francis’s Camera operator, Gerry Fisher, soon became a Lighting Cameraman, working most notably on Joseph Losey’s Harold Pinter collaborations Accident and The Go Between. Then you had the best First Assistant Director in the film business in the shape of David Tomblin, later a stunningly inventive director on ITV’s The Prisoner series, and Gerry Anderson’s live action ITV series UFO, before leaving for Hollywood to be a First Assistant Director in films such as Rambo and Cape Fear. Add to this the incredible percussive soundtrack by Ron Grainer who wrote the theme music for the ITV series The Prisoner and the BBC Dr Who theme.

Reisz’s determination to make a ‘serial killer’ thriller paved the way for Twisted Nerve and Silence of the Lambs. A horror shot of Danny arriving-in from night time rain is clearly later ‘borrowed’ in Martin Sheen’s walk-in scene to kill Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. This is when you realise just how influential a director Karel Reisz remains in the pantheon of international cinema. Night Must Fall is his lost masterpiece.


A LIVE APPEARANCE 

Finally, and by no means least, the film’s co-star Susan Hampshire chatted on stage afterwards with Phillip Bergson. In an audience Q & A she talked without a microphone. Incredibly self-effacing, she revealed that this was just her “third on screen role” at “the tender age of 21”. She said that she was glad that she didn’t smile too much as, “I’m a smiley kind of person, normally”. She also revealed that the most testing scene was when Reisz made her actually change a car wheel amid the pouring rain at night, turning all the wheel nuts with a wrought iron wrench. She described Reisz as “a kind and very intellectual director” who was sympathetic towards her dyslexia. This has always made her learning of lines somewhat difficult. So pleased to see Night Must Fall for the first time since 1964, Hampshire attended a second screening the following night. What a star!

IMAGES = Fair Use USA. Fair Dealing UK

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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