Blind Tuesday: Rilla Thrilla

It’s been a VERY long time since I last blogged about a blind person thriller on a Tuesday, which I used to do quite often. Never quite got around to WAIT UNTIL DARK for some reason.

This one’s way more obscure — the copy of WITNESS IN THE DARK I obtained had evidently been recorded off ITV on VHS, with the commercial breaks splinked out, not too precisely.

It’s a great little quota quickie — Wolf Rilla, whose best film by 100 miles is the original VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, laboured for years in the realm of no-star, no-budget one-week-schedule crime films. He manages to shoot effectively, with lots of expressive camera movement, maybe even utilising the cheapness of the sets to his advantage, flying the walls out to reposition his camera in impossible places, like looking past the mantelpiece as if through the wallpaper.

Scottish actress Patricia Dainton — with a cut-glass English accent — is very effective as the sightless switchboard operator who has a close run-in with the man who murders her elderly neighbour, and then becomes his target, not because she knows too much (although that would have worked for the story) but because she’s fallen heir to the valuable jewelry that motivated the crime. It’s straight out of GASLIGHT. Dainton’s very dark eyes help her play blind with an unblinking straightahead stare.

Conrad Phillips is the detective on the case, rather unsympathetic in manner, which helps, even with the shoehorned romance — it gives him a steeper character arc to pull off in the film’s modest 60 min runtime; there’s a young Richard O’Sullivan, years before Man About the House. (Both Dainton and Sullivan are still with us.) A nosy neighbour is played by Madge Ryan, who turns up later as a state brainwasher in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE — “You’re getting better. This time next week, you’ll be better still.” Possible to detect moments in her line readings that anticipate that steely delivery.

And best of all, there’s Nigel Green as the killer. Wearing loafers instead of shiny shoes and woolly gloves instead of sexy strangler gloves. Bloody rationing. Also doing a fine northern accent, considering he was South African. He comes across like a hulking, murderous Alan Bennett. There’s no reason for it, he’s just making the job, and the film, more interesting, for himself and us.

WITNESS IN THE DARK isn’t earth-shattering but it restored my faith in quota quickies (films made purely to fulfill the UK government’s demand for a percentage of films in cinemas to be British). It’s modest but inventively made. So many of these films are just dull. Need to see more Rilla.

Producer Sydney Box had the reputation for mucking up scripts — this one must have been too cheap for him to have bothered.


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