In the '80s, Appellate Judge Tom Becker had a Night Swatch.
You'll be seeing this nightmare every night for the rest of your life.
Ellen Wheeler (Elizabeth Taylor, Giant) is terrified. Looking out her rain-soaked window one night, she's sure she saw a murdered man in the abandoned house next door. Her husband, John (Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top), calls the police, but when they search the house, they find nothing.
John and Sarah (Billie Whitelaw, The Omen)—Ellen's best friend, who's staying with the couple—become concerned that Ellen is losing her mind. It doesn't help matters when Ellen finds a cigarette lighter and cuff links that belonged to her late husband, a cad who died in a car crash with his young mistress, and who's been the subject of Ellen's nightmares of late—and who resembles the man Ellen claims to have seen.
Even worse: Ellen thinks she sees a second murder in the abandoned house, this time a young woman.
Is Ellen cracking up? Or is someone giving her a not-so-gentle nudge toward a padded room?
Night Watch came along during that terrible period of Elizabeth Taylor's career known as "Anything After The Taming of the Shrew." It came along after such misguided efforts as Boom! and Secret Ceremony, and the TV-movie snoozer Divorce His—Divorce Hers, and her appearance with then-husband Richard Burton on Here's Lucy, though it predated such odious fare as the largely unreleased The Driver's Seat and the god-awful update of The Blue Bird. It came as her tabloid wet-dream marriage of excess to Burton was on the wane, and neither was considered a particularly potent box-office draw.
Night Watch is far from the worst films Taylor made during this period. It's not an especially bad film, just a modest one based on a modest play by Lucille Fletcher, most famous for writing Sorry, Wrong Number and a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, "The Hitch-Hiker." Night Watch the play ran a few months on Broadway but became famous as a mainstay of community and college theater productions.
The play was a simple, single-set affair, but director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) opens it up, so in addition to the Wheeler apartment, we see the abandoned house, the garden, and other locations just mentioned in the play. While this makes the film less "stagebound," it also robs it of some much needed atmosphere and tips us off to a few plot points that might have been better left to the imagination. The location is also changed, from New York City to the UK, giving Taylor the opportunity to use a sporadic British accent.
Taylor's presence, as usual, knocks everyone else off the screen, and she chews up her many mad-lady scenes. Decked out in a variety of wigs and costumes that accommodate her ever-fluctuating weight, she is every inch a movie queen, interesting to watch in an old-school way, but a bit too big and "actor-ish" to make the whole thing really work. Harvey—who'd co-starred with Taylor in Butterfield 8—was ill during the filming and would die not long after the film was released. His performance seems a bit unfocused, but that might have to do with the way the character is written as much as his health problems.
The film's central mystery is resolved in a way that's convoluted and not especially satisfying, more the kind of ending you'd expect to find in a second-rate Italian giallo than a chilly psychological thriller. I'm guessing this worked better on stage, where things were likely more ambiguous.
I'll say this for Taylor: for an actress who pretty much personified beauty—and with it, necessarily, youth—she went pretty fearlessly into middle age. She was 41 here, playing a more matronly woman; someone even comments that her unfounded claims of seeing a murder are due to menopause(!). Even before this, Taylor was playing older; she was 36 when she made Secret Ceremony, playing a character who was thought to be Mia Farrow's mother; consider: while 30-something Taylor was playing matrons, her friend Roddy McDowall, four years her senior, was playing a 20-ish hippie in Angel, Angel, Down We Go, and two years prior, at age 38, had played a high school student in Lord Love a Duck. It seems that once Taylor made harridan history as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, there was little turning back.
Since the disc is from Warner Archive, there's nothing here save for the film, which gets a pretty marginal transfer and so-so audio.
While it's not a total waste, Night Watch is a tepid thriller that will appeal mainly to Taylor completists.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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