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  Night Train to Murder What Do You Think Of It So Far?
Year: 1983
Director: Joseph McGrath
Stars: Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise, Margaret Courtenay, Kenneth Haigh, Fulton Mackay, Pamela Salem, Lysette Anthony, Roger Brierley, Edward Judd, Ben Aris, Tony Boncza, Frank Coda, Big Mike Crane, Robert Longden, Penny Meredith, Tim Stern, Richard Vernon
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Our story starts in 1946 Carlisle where Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise (as themselves) are playing to a packed yet unenthusiastic theatre with their song, dance and comedy act. Meanwhile, in the foyer a young woman has arrived, Kathy Chalmers (Lysette Anthony), who is Eric's niece and she has news for him. It seems a distant, elderly relative has passed away and she is due a great deal of inheritance, so she wishes her uncle to accompany her to the reading of the will, he being the closest family member she has. But while they discuss what to do after the show, what they don't notice is a sinister, masked figure skulking around in the wings - until a sandbag hits Ernie square on his head...

Night Train to Murder was not supposed to be the final bow for one of Britain's most beloved comedy double acts, it was actually promised to them as the beginning of a fresh start in their career to revive their movie prospects, but as it turned out Eric Morecambe, who was never in the healthiest of shape and by the eighties was ailing thanks to his heart condition, died before this had a chance to be shown to the public. That might have been a blessing in disguise, for all Thames Television's assurances that it would have a cinema release - this was one of the main bonuses to the duo moving from their worldbeating BBC shows to the decidedly second rate ITV ones - it was actually broadcast on television.

It did get a few cinema bookings afterwards, as part of the lower half of double bills just as such things were fading out, but you can't imagine many being fooled that this was really silver screen material: it was shot on videotape and looked depressingly cheap, which tended to take away from any of its more overt ambitions. That said, there is a not-so-grand tradition of great stars having their final appearances in deeply unimpressive productions, so you could regard Morecambe and Wise as carrying that on, even if it was not something you could take much satisfaction from. But was Night Train to Murder the unfunny footnote its reputation had it, not that the double act were terribly happy with it either, or was there some worth to salvage from it?

Of course, with this duo there were going to be a handful of laughs at least, and if their best scriptwriter Eddie Braben wasn't working with them here then they did seem to have learned from him, both of them having a hand in the screenplay. It was just that by returning to the old comedy thrillers of their youth - The Cat and the Canary was an obvious influence, especially in the latter half - they were resurrecting a style that had been old hat for decades, even in spoof form, so there was a dusty mood to much of the goings-on. Was there really anything more to be said in the form that Morecambe and Wise could bring to the table? This was less Bob Hope than it was Arthur Askey, and aside from a few irreverent giggles you could practically hear the plot and jokes creaking from overuse.

The night train of the title, which might lead you to expect a Hitchcockian influence in a The Lady Vanishes sort of way (there's even a cameo by Hitch, except he's not, he's some fat bloke with the theme music to his TV show played over him), makes up only a small part of the story, for eventually the characters settle in a Scottish mansion, accompanied by Fulton Mackay as the solicitor who appears to know more than he's letting on, only by the end that was either a red herring or simply a thread that led nowhere in particular. From there you can predict where it will go, with the relatives bumped off one by one, apparently by an escaped lunatic but actually by one of the people gathered for the reading of the will. There was a reliable selection of actors here, mostly TV talent, from Pamela Salem as the vampish cousin to Kenneth Haigh as a kilt-wearing American, but this was Morecambe and Wise's show all the way as they were in the limelight thanks to veteran Joseph McGrath's direction, and if they had a bigger budget this might have been successful. As it was, a slightly sad, misty-eyed way to end.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Joseph McGrath  (1930 - )

Scottish director of film and TV comedy who debuted as one of four directors on the chaotic James Bond spoof Casino Royale. The Terry Southern-penned Magic Christian was a bizarre comedy whose cast included Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, while 1973's Digby, The Biggest Dog in the World is a much-loved kids favourite. McGrath also helmed The Great McGonagall, another oddball Milligan comedy, and big screen version of Rising Damp.

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