Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Endless Night

I have no idea what scene this is from
Watching The Mirror Crack'd this Fall stirred a long-dormant movie appetite for me.  While that movie wasn't great, it reminded me how much I enjoy a good mystery.  It also reminded me how few Agatha Christie film adaptations I've watched.  While scanning through Netflix's instant queue, I stumbled across Endless Night, a movie I've never heard of based on a Christie book I have never read.  I figured that a story I was unfamiliar with would keep the mystery intact longer ---and I was right --- but that does not necessarily mean that you should go into this film with the same amount of foreknowledge I had.

Michael (Hywel Bennett) is a bit of a loser.  He holds random jobs for a few weeks at a time, but inevitably walks out or gets fired.  He's a bit of a dreamer, and he dreams of life as a very wealthy man.  While working as a chauffeur, Michael befriends a world-class architect, the peculiar-looking Santonix (Per Oscarsson), and the two idly come up with some grand plans for a fabulous home (which Michael could never afford) on Michael 's favorite piece of real estate (which Michael will never own).
Architect or cubist Picasso inspiration?  You decide
One day, as Michael visits the plot of land he loves so much, called Gypsy's Acre by the locals, he accidentally meets a very sweet girl, Ellie (Haley Mills).  The two quickly fall in love, but it turns out that Ellie is one of the wealthiest people in England.  Amazingly, that inconvenience does not prevent Michael from marrying her.
Michael, having the tough news broken to him
The two marry, despite disapproval from Ellie's family, and have Santonix build them a modern home on Gypsy's Acre.  Then the real problems begin.  One of the locals, whose family once owned Gypsy's Acre, appears to be trying to creep the new couple off the land; she doesn't do much except stare at their house, but according to a reliable source, you shouldn't trust gypsies to do no harm.  On top of that, Michael has to deal with Ellie's overbearing family, who are all too aware that he is now heir to a fortune that was once theirs.  To make matters even more awkward, Ellie invites her best friend/hired companion, the gorgeous Greta (Britt Ekland), to live in their new home. 
Yeah, I'd hate to have her live with me
To recap, Michael has gone from a poor schlub with no prospects to a happily married man that is ridiculously wealthy, living his dream and his biggest problems are bitter old women giving him a hard time.  Life is tough sometimes.  However, the story is told in flashback by Michael and parts of it have nightmarish undertones.  What could have happened that made Michael dream of this image in this odd hue?
Please please please let Beetlejuice be responsible

I was never a big fan of Haley Mills as a child actress, but she's a little better than I expected in Endless Night.  Her character is very sweet and innocent, but I was surprised to not find her annoying.  Well, not too annoying.  On an amusing note, when Haley sings, her voice was dubbed over by Shirley Jones; so, when you see the scene and think "Gee, her lips and throat don't quite match the operatic voice in this scene," you are absolutely correct.  When I have to start by praising the mediocre talent of a former Disney star, you can tell that the acting is not great.  Specifically, Hywel Bennett was consistently awful.  The script has a few opportunities for Michael to seem sympathetic or likable, but Bennett manages to deadpan his way through every chance he got.  I understand that he needs to be a little mysterious for the mystery at the story's center, but there's a big difference between being bland and reserved.  Britt Ekland was also horrid.  Ekland isn't typically in films for her acting talent, but she really shouldn't be asked to cry on cue; her "acting" made me wince on multiple occasions.  George Sanders was fine, but sorely underused as the only cast member that understood the concept of subtlety.  On the bright side, this was the first time I saw Lois Maxwell outside of a James Bond film; all she does is give Michael the cold shoulder, but it showed more range than I thought her capable of.
Miss Moneypenny disapproves

Endless Night was directed and adapted for the screen by Sidney Gillat.  Gillat had a long career, primarily as a writer (including a few early Hitchcock films, like The Lady Vanishes), but if this is a representative example of his directorial skills, he should have stuck with his typewriter.  I will admit that a decent amount of the problem with Endless Night is Christie's source novel --- it focused on psychology instead of mystery --- but Gillat did absolutely nothing to save the concept.  Michael is the narrator, and it is clear that he is an unreliable narrator; Gillat could have run with that idea, having Michael reconstruct scenes when he is caught narrating a lie, forcing the audience to wonder how much of this story actually happened.  That's not the route Gillat goes.  Instead, Michael just bookends the story in a very loose way.  Even worse, the introductory bookend was wretched; coming across as hilariously melodramatic and just plain goofy.  Of course, as director, you can also blame Gillat for getting such wooden performances from his cast, too. 
"You want us to...act?!?"
There are some technical flaws that I noticed, too, with the most notable being the alleged night scene --- where Ellie wakes from a deep sleep only moments after Michael got up and decides to follow him outside, just like any married couple would ***eye roll***--- that was clearly filmed during the daytime and then artificially darkened.  My least favorite aspect of this film was how dull the reveal is.  Yes, Gillat made sure to not explicitly hint at the secret before the plot twist, but it was neither shocking nor entertaining.  He failed to build an ounce of suspense.
He did, however, build an ugly house for this movie

Even with poor direction and embarrassing acting, Endless Night could have stood out for its twist/reveal/mystery.  Had Gillat fostered the notion of Michael as an unreliable narrator, the reveal toward the end could have been fairly cool.  Instead, it seems less the work of a dastardly genius and more like a sitcom plot.  Bad story, bad acting and a lame twist lead to a bad movie.  On the other hand, there is a certain amount of kitsch value to a film with such a ridiculous house, a scene where Haley Mills has no face, and Britt Ekland has the least convincing crying-changing-into-laughter scene ever.  This is definitely a bad movie that has aged poorly, but you can laugh at it for a small bit of enjoyment.

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