BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE NIGHTCOMERS

By • Jun 19th, 2007 •

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(Lions Gate Home Entertainment) 1972. 97 mins. 16X9 AR. MPAA “R” rating

One of Marlon Brando’s most enjoyable performances was overshadowed in 1972 by two of the actor’s other screen appearances: THE GODFATHER and LAST TANGO IN PARIS. In any other year, it would have gotten attention, but it happened to be the best year of his film career, and THE NIGHTCOMERS got lost in the shuffle.

Actors should use Brando’s monologue (39:00-44:00) for auditions. Never mind that he had cue cards hidden around the barn, he gives them a most inspired reading. Brando has had great monologues before – provided by Tennessee Williams, William Shakespeare, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Towne, Damon Runyan, Budd Schulberg, Buck Henry, and John Steinbeck. This one stands up to them all.

In this prequel to Henry James’ THE TURN OF THE SCREW, we finally get to meet Quint and Miss Jessel, ghosts by the time James’ novella spun its sinister tale. Many might feel the two characters were best left alone, to be dreamed into their previous incarnations by readers of the original story, since there is an incompleteness, and an unsuccessfulness, about THE NIGHTCOMERS despite its many delights. Obviously the double-bill made in heaven would be this first, then Jack Clayton’s haunting THE INNOCENTS, which is the James story.

Two isolated children are placed under the dubious care of rakish gardener Quint and prim teacher Jessel. The teacher succumbs to the sadistic, sexual playfulness of the gardener and, unfortunately, the impressionable children witness the lurid goings-on. The rest is a down-spiral study in cause and effect.

Michael Winner produced and directed, and he was an impatient artist who moved through a shoot swiftly, which Brando must have loved, he being a self-loathing artist who thought little of his profession, abandoned theater because it was too taxing, and mainly did films for the money. Winner entertains us on the commentary track. He informs us that the young girl was actually nineteen – a casting necessity dictated by the nature of the film. And that he and Brando got along splendidly, which I’m sure they did. Along the way he gets some of the facts wrong, manages to retract one or two of them, and leaves the other inaccuracies alone. That’s okay; we get it.

The Cinematography is an important part of the film’s charm, all woody colors and lush country presence, and the mastering is a bit off in that regard. I wish they’d brought in Director of Photography Robert Paynter to supervise. Jerry Fielding’s music is appropriate if not memorable, though it sounds lovely when isolated over the menu.

As for 25-year-old Stephanie Beacham, who plays Miss Jessel, the actress – not Winner’s first choice – let her inhibitions go in front of the camera, much to our satisfaction, but, according to Winner, apparently suffered second thoughts about what she’d done, and remained in hiding during the time of the film’s promotional tour. If this was so, why, I wonder, did she allow herself, that same year, to pose nude for Playboy Magazine? Whatever the truth of the situation, Ms. Beacham later appeared in DRACULA A.D. 1972 as Jessica Van Helsing, in 49 episodes of “The Colbys”, 22 episodes of “Dynasty”, 21 episodes of “Seaquest DSV”, and 10 episodes of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”


Special Features:
Audio commentary by Michael Winner.
Produced and Directed by Michael Winner.
Written by Michael Hastings, inspired by the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James.
Presented by Joseph E. Levine.

With Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham, Thora Hird, Harry Andrews.

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