The Ice Man Cometh and Goeth

I had fond yet vague memories of THE NIGHT VISITOR, AKA LUNATIC (substitute title spliced in on a piece of cardboard in my VHS copy) — I knew it had some ingenious John Dickson Carr type plotting. In fact, that’s almost all it has…

Laszlo Benedek, near the end of his largely televisual career (it’s 1971 — he’d make one more movie in ’77), directs, with an interesting Scandinavian/British cast (the movie isn’t too precise about where it’s action is occurring, but we’re assuming some Northerly clime).

Max Von Sydow is Salem, unjustly committed to a bleak fortress of an insane asylum, at the connivance of his sister, brother-in-law, mistress and lawyer. But he’s getting out at night and killing them, as we learn in scene 1 (this info could usefully have been held back a little). The police are baffled because whenever they check on Max, he’s back in his cell with no sign of how he could have escaped. The perfect alibi.

If John Dickson Carr, master of the locked-room mystery, had written this, we’d have been tempted with some supernatural explanation, possibly astral projection, and a good bit of terror would have resulted — of course, some perfectly rational explanation would have emerged in due course. In Scooby Doo, this was always disappointing, but Carr just about made it work, dispelling the shadows with a wave of his logical wand.

The film’s real highlight is the prolonged, wordless sequence where we learn just how Max is effecting his nightly getaways, all rather suavely worked out and neatly presented. The whole thing comes with an ironic pay-off and good performances from a distinguished cast –

Liv Ullman is one of the rotters who stitched Max up. Liv and let die. Per Oscarsson is another. As Per usual. They make a beastly couple, but in their favour they do own a delightful parrot. Possibly a Norwegian Blue. The blue would be on account of the cold.

The local detective is played by a gallon of whisky wrapped inside a thin layer of Trevor Howard. The head of the asylum is Andrew Keir — Quatermass! I like to think he’s treating his patients with rocketry.

If only the film had more to it than its neat plot, it might be a minor classic. It’s certainly a movie which could be remade today in the light of all the Scandinavian noir we’re seeing. Trevor even has a Scandi jumper like that woman on The Killing. Movies with nothing but a good plot (and, admittedly, a superlative cast) make good remake fodder, if anybody’s listening…

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8 Responses to “The Ice Man Cometh and Goeth”

  1. Lazlo Benedek of course directed THE WILD ONE, the Marlon Brando motorcycle movie. At the end of his life, he worked at NYU’s film program, brought in Nicholas Ray, and when Jim Jarmusch decided to abuse his scholarship funds to make a film on his own, Benedek was fairly supportive.

  2. Produced by Mel Ferrer with a score by Henry Mancini.

  3. Yes, Mancini is good with psychopaths: his unused Frenzy score is an improvement on what Hitch ended up with, and Experiment in Terror is a triumph of scary crime jazz cool. He does nice frosty work on this one.

    Yes, Benedek seems like a good egg. Apart from one moment, he uses rather than abuses the zoom lens here, and makes fine use of locations.

  4. GeraldF Says:

    Originally called Salem Comes to Supper this was supposed to star Christopher Lee but he got gazumped when Max became available…

  5. Both choices would have worked. The Lee version could have been sold more effectively under the Lunatic title, I guess.

  6. You’re right about Mancini and psychopaths. Don’t let’s forget TOUCH OF EVIL, though. I keep looking for footage of the Akim Tamiroff murder. This was the best I was able to come up with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHKBCGsXxZA

    (See the bit with the Vargas thugs)

    Now if only the recent TOUCH OF EVIL restoration, on the whole admirable, had found a place for the wonderful Mancini credits music …

    See, too, the PETER GUNN television music.

  7. Well, the Touch of Evil box set gives you the earlier cuts with the full Mancini score.

    The Peter Gunn theme is fantastic. Duane Eddy did a nice cover with The Art of Noise. Never saw the show, I’m afraid.

  8. I’m growing quite fond of the PETER GUNN tv show. It has the problems one might expect from a crime show where everything has to be resolved within 30 minutes and, in addition, Good Taste Arbiters of the period musn’t be shocked into wakefulness, Still, though, Blake Edwards plus at least one Altman-directed episode, Mancini music, good on-camera West Coast jazz musicians of the period, Lola Albright, plus Hope Emerson (at least in the early years) as a regular … what’s not to like?

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