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  Night Watch Taylor Made For TerrorBuy this film here.
Year: 1973
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Billie Whitelaw, Robert Lang, Tony Britton, Bill Dean, Michael Danvers-Walker, Rosario Serrano, Pauline Jameson, Linda Hayden, Kevin Colson, Laon Maybanke, David Jackson
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ellen Wheeler (Elizabeth Taylor) is a pampered wife of a financial advisor, John (Laurence Harvey), who has a troubled past which she thinks she has finally put behind her now she has settled down in a swanky London town house, but as she putters about, instructing her maid Dolores (Rosario Serrano) about that evening's dinner and chatting with neighbour Mr Appleby (Robert Lang) about the garden, she always finds her eyes drawn to the abandoned mansion which looms above her across the way. The neighbours who stayed there have long gone, but what if it's not entirely empty?

The movies megastar Elizabeth Taylor made after her second Oscar-winning turn in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were not exactly huge successes at the box office, and more evidence to the cultural commentators of her decline as she battled a weight problem and issues with alcohol, not to mention a love life which left a lot to be desired. But many of those often eccentric works shared something in common, and that was a delve into the psychological, often the abnormally psychological, as Liz was liable to go a little nuts in them, perhaps echoing her role in the last really big hit of her career (well, until The Flintstones at any rate), perhaps linked to her fragile mental state.

In this case, it was one of those reliable, some would say creaky, plots wrapped up in that age old question, is someone trying to drive the lead character mad or not? This had spawned many a thriller for many a year, from Gaslight to My Name is Julia Ross and all points in between, so by the point Night Watch arrived the answer would be well known to any audience who had enjoyed enough of those affairs that they would think it was, yes, somebody probably is trying to send you crazy, Liz. How this played out was that she sees a dead body through the flapping shutters on a window in the house across the way, but then cannot persuade anyone else of the fact.

This was based on a Broadway play that expert in vintage radio thrillers Lucille Fletcher had written, which likely was the reason the resulting film came across as so past it rather than a modern story; the fact that the cast were entirely middle-aged was another prompt to view this as rather fusty instead of the suspenseful experience obviously intended. Director Brian G. Hutton, about whom the one fact anyone knows about him is that he apparently retired from movies in the eighties to become a plumber, didn't quite open the plot out enough; he could of course have gone the other route, as Roman Polanski did in the not dissimilar The Tenant around the same time, and made this insanely claustrophobic.

But he didn't, he rendered it more theatrical, and there were stretches of this where you could readily imagine it unfolding on the stage, although he did include nightmare-style flashbacks to Ellen's trauma, which as we discover was having to identify the bodies of her adulterous husband and his younger mistress (cult Brit star Linda Hayden, speaking nary a word) on a morgue slab after their car crashed on a country highway: could this have been the trigger for her unbalanced nature? Her second husband and her best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) are trying to convince her that there's nothing going on in the old, dark house but she keeps telephoning the police anyway (led by a world-weary Bill Dean as the Inspector) to the point where she becomes a standing joke to them. To be fair, Night Watch did build to a twist that you might well not see coming as it did attempt something interesting with a hackneyed format, but by then it was too late, though the sight of Elizabeth Taylor going spectacularly, violently over the top was something to witness. Music by John Cameron.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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