Drear Window


NIGHT WATCH (1973) with Liz Taylor — there’s no way to discuss the more interesting aspects of this one — and it has a couple — without spoilers, so I’m just going to wade in and give everything away.

The piece, adapted from a play, inverts the premise of LES DIABOLIQUES, so that our assumption of a conspiracy to gaslight Liz Taylor into madness, pointed to with heavy clues, turns out to be erroneous — Liz is actually setting up her own insanity defence, prior to murdering her unfaithful spouse (Laurence Harvey) and his mistress (Billie Whitelaw). By continually reporting corpses staring at her from the deserted house next door, Liz ensures that her final call will never be investigated — and now there ARE a couple of corpses sitting in the front room. The play with plot elements from Clouzot’s ground-breaking twist ending shocker continues with a coda in which Liz is caught bang to rights by a nosy neighbour — but instead of shopping her to the authorities, he lets her go in exchange for a generous consideration.


This is clever enough as far as it goes, but it means one watches most of the film with impatience, convinced one has it all figured out. And indeed, as far as the extra-marital affair is concerned, one has. What keeps the attention, if anything, is the wacky dream sequence flashbacks, which feature the always-welcome Linda Hayden (Hayden and her hubbie Robin Askwith were the Burtons of bare-ass British exploitation cinema in the seventies, so it’s fitting she should be here). Oh, and the awful dialogue and bizarre performances, where a simple inquiry like “Why can’t you sleep?” is spoken by Harvey with completely inexplicable aggression. Just imagine what he can do with a line like “I can handle a dead body, but your dead husband Carl is too much!” (MODESTY BLAISE scribe Evan Jones is credited with additional dialogue, but God knows…)


The visualisation of the scary empty house is extremely atmospheric (photography by Ken Russell collaborator Billy Williams), and at the climax, all of the film’s strong suits come together — the house, the nightmare imagery, and Linda Hayden, and the plot jumps the rails from Clouzot’s Boileau-Narcejac model, and it basically becomes a Brit giallo. Liz Taylor makes a fiendish stabber, as you’d expect. Short but vicious.



11 Responses to “Drear Window”

  1. The Nightwatch house is fun, but small beer compared to the one in Losey’s Secret Ceremony in which Taylor’s paired with a pre-Woody/ post-Sinatra Mia Farrow (bat-shit-crazy to the max) with Robert Mitchum dropping in as “Special Guest Perv.” The house is an elaborate high-ceilinged affair with all manner of tiles, lapus lazuli and the like. Taylor and Farrow take a bath together at one point and it’s almost as much fun as bath a trois Mick takes with Anita Pallenberg and Michelle Breton in Performance.

  2. If Mitchum is actually billed as “Special Guest Perv” this goes on my queue immediately.

  3. spooby mcglue Says:

    that’s Lord Leighton’s house in Secret Ceremony, a lovely hidden thing in Holland Park that cannot even be despoiled by the movie (which is almost worthless – the hysteria/psychology is simultaneously shrill and tired, but “Special Guest Perv” brightens things somewhat)

  4. I like Secret Ceremony as a mad thing that should never have happened. Richard Lester dismisses Boom! (on which he worked as post-production supervisor) and Modesty Blaise as broken-backed ideas, but the true invertebrate in Losey’s oeuvre is Secret Ceremony, a film predicated upon nothing whatsoever.

  5. Well I wouldn’t call Elizabeth Taylor “nothing whatsoever.”

  6. No, but Liz herself does not constitute a movie pitch. I mean, in industry terms, clearly she DID, you could get funding on her name alone, but that doesn’t mean you have an idea for a movie…

  7. david wingrove Says:

    I love SECRET CEREMONY…if only as a chance to watch a bunch of seasoned professionals sit back and let the house do the acting on their behalf!

  8. Best bit is Liz silently swearing at her reflection while doing her makeup. I should make a gif of that for women everywhere.

  9. Howard Curtis Says:

    I think it was Debenham House, not Leighton House.

  10. Jeff Woodman Says:

    To leave Secret Ceremony and return to the subject of the post for a second, the beauty part of the Night Watch twist is that it is complete speculation on the viewer’s (or blogger’s) part that Harvey and Whitelaw are in any way having an affair.

    Great care is taken never to confirm or deny the “fact” and the interpretation that adds another layer of interest for me (and I admit to being completely taken in by the twist ending as a teen, as has everyone I’ve shown it to in the ensuing 40 years) is the possibility that Taylor does away with two innocent people, who are NOT having an affair (it certainly doesn’t sound like Harvey behind that hotel shower curtain as Whitelaw tosses the ice water) and are NOT out to destroy her, but that her lingering psychosis over first husbands Carl’s death while cheating (“They couldn’t keep their hands off each other even at eighty miles an hour!”) has caused her to imagine the entire affair and the subsequent plot to drive her mad.

  11. Thanks — that’s a nice reading.

    The problem — ignoring the improbability of someone so delusional being able to plot so complex a crime — is that the wait for the reveal isn’t interesting enough. It’s often a problem in plot-driven clockwork toy films, that the characters never have space to come to life and spend all their time following the writer’s dance steps.

    Secondary to this is that the film flatters the viewer (or blogger) by letting them think they’ve guessed it, rather than keeping them guessing, which again makes the viewing experience mentally sluggish.

    It IS a great denouement though.

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