Tell nobody, not even your closest friend, the terrifying secret of Endless Night.
Transferring written works to the screen is a dicey proposition. Novels in particular often incorporate a lot of exposition, introspection and internal dialogs that may be crucial to the work, but are almost impossible to transfer to the screen. The highly verbal quality of their construction can prove an insurmountable obstacle to their success as a film. Simply put, novels are often inherently uncinematic, and those wishing to adapt them for the screen need to be very careful about how faithful they are to the material; for reference, see David Lynch's 1984 version of Dune.
Agatha Christie is one of the most beloved mystery novelists in the English-speaking world. Her novels have frequently been adapted for film, often with very satisfactory results. However, her novel Endless Night appears to be an example of a work that is less than ideal for cinematic adaptation. Unfortunately, someone went out and tried anyway.
Facts of the Case
Michael Rogers (Hywel Bennett) is a young, English, and without much direction in life. He works as a chauffeur, driving wealthy vacationers all over Europe. His unattainable dream is to buy Gypsy's Acre, a piece of land with a perfect view, and build his dream house there. One day while exploring Gypsy's Acre and fantasizing about his dream house, he comes across a beautiful young woman (Hayley Mills—The Parent Trap) dancing and frolicking about. Her name is Ellie, and they soon hit it off. Michael is later shocked to learn that Ellie is actually Fenella Thomsen, one of the richest young heiresses in the world. This revelation threatens to drive them apart, but Michael soon decides that a life of wealth and leisure wouldn't be so bad after all, and soon he and Ellie are married and living in Michael's dream house at Gypsy's Acre. Michael even buys a little antique shop in a nearby village so that he will have something ostensibly respectable to do, instead of living idly off his wife's fortune.
Not all is perfect in paradise, however, and of course not everyone is thrilled with Michael and Ellie's newfound happiness. In true Cinderella fashion, there is a wicked stepmother (Lois Maxwell—Miss Moneypenny in several James Bond films), her husband, and the family lawyer, who decide to settle in a few short miles from Gypsy's Acre. There is Ellie's dear friend Greta (Britt Ekland—Get Carter, The Man with the Golden Gun), a German girl who is very attached to Ellie and very controlling, in a stereotypically German manner.
This being an Agatha Christie story, I'm sure that the reader will surmise that eventually someone will wind up dead, and someone else will be the killer. Never one to spoil the ending of a movie, I leave it to you to discover who is dead and who is guilty.
The liner notes for Anchor Bay's DVD releases of Agatha Christie movies contain a short biographical essay about the author. Here we learn that Christie first started writing when she was 16 years of age, and that she first started with romance novels instead of the mysteries we know her for today. Later in life she returned to the romance genre, occasionally writing a romance under the pseudonym Mary Westacott. I mention this because for most of its running time, Endless Nights plays more like a dime store romance novel than an Agatha Christie mystery thriller. In fairness, I have to assume this is no reflection on the original material, although I admit that I have not read Endless Night. The movie flows at a leisurely pace through the courtship of Ellie and Michael. We see them gamboling in the fields together. We see them at quiet cafes together. We see their married life together, and the almost soap-opera style conflicts with Ellie's family, and with Greta. Along the way we are treated to many, many scenes that creak under the weight of expository dialogue, almost as if someone were reading the original novel aloud.
The movie reaches the 55-minute mark (in a 99-minute running time) before we get any indication that Things Are Not As They Seem. (Well, there is the crazy lady who appears out of nowhere from time to time spouting dire warnings about a curse or somesuch, but she is hard to take too seriously.) When the tragedy does finally strike, it does so in a very subdued, anticlimactic fashion, and there is no sense of suspense or intrigue; the movie tells us exactly who the killer is in almost the next scene.
The acting performances are mixed. Hywel Bennett is pretty good as Michael, who starts out as a young chauffeur on the make and progresses to a contented and then anguished husband. Hayley Mills is moderately successful as Ellie, and does manage to bring the character a sense of wide-eyed naïveté. Less successful is Britt Ekland as Greta; granted, it is a stereotyped and fairly thankless role, but she doesn't do much to help make it convincing. Among the supporting cast the best performance comes from David Bauer as "Uncle Frank," the sophisticated, somewhat conspiratorial family lawyer.
The Anchor Bay DVD release of Endless Night is presented in a 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer, with Dolby Digital Mono sound. The only piece of extra content is an old, grainy, overlong trailer, presented in its original aspect ratio.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Anchor Bay generally does a fine job of bringing lesser-known movies to the screen, but their efforts in this case are disappointing. The video presentation is often grainy, with some instances of moiré patterns and strobing in fine textures such as the grass of a manicured lawn, or plaid clothing patterns. Many scenes appear overlit and washed out. The colors overall look to be fairly faithfully rendered, but they look faded and dull. This movie is thirty years old, and the source material is definitely showing its age a bit. There are also some noticeable instances of motion artifacting, such as in the art museum scene in Chapter 5. Ellie's brilliant white clothing in Chapter 6 shows some signs of haloing or bleeding. There is also a lot of graininess and false movement in what should be solid surfaces. Many images are quite soft.
The audio, as stated earlier, is Dolby Digital Mono. It is very dialogue-heavy. The dialogue is clear and easily understood, but there is a consistent hiss under the audio at all times. Several of Ellie's lines appear to have been dubbed or looped, as the sound is just slightly out of synch with Haley Mills's face and mouth movements. It struck me as odd that she was the only actor for whom this seemed to be true.
If stiff expositional dialogue scenes and a mystery that doesn't begin until it is almost over sounds like your idea of a good time, then this movie is for you. If not, then give this one a pass.
The movie and those making it are guilty of making a slow, uninteresting movie that will not involve or hold the audience in any way. I am loath to convict Anchor Bay of anything, given their history of providing us with fascinating films we wouldn't get to see otherwise. However, in this case they have provided us with sub-par audio and video, and have provided no worthwhile extra content, so I shall have to throw the book at them.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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