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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

VHS Vednesday: The Night Walker

THE NIGHT WALKER (1964). Directed by William Castle. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, and Lloyd Bochner.

Well, last week, I covered a movie by Bert I. Gordon, so this time around, I'll salute another grand master of the '50s/'60s B-move: William Castle. Best known for the promotional gimmicks surrounding his horror movies ("Percepto," "Emergo," "Illusion-O"), Castle's reputation for ballyhoo often overshadows the fact that he was a skilled craftsman of suspense.
The Night Walker is one of Castle's most straightforward vibrating theatre seats or inflatable skeletons lowered from the ceiling. Instead, we've got the mysterious tale of bitter blind millionaire Howard Trent (Hayden Rorke), who suspects his long-suffering wife Irene (Barbara Stanwyck) of infidelity, based on remarks she made while talking in her sleep. He is unswayed by her insistence that the "other man" is only a dream, and enlists his attorney (Robert Taylor) to find out her lover's identity. Further complications arise when Trent is killed in an explosion, and Irene begins seeing her dream lover (Lloyd Bochner) in the waking world. Is she losing her mind, or is there a more sinister explanation?
Robert Bloch's screenplay is effectively twisted (in the "convoluted" rather than "sick" sense), walking a fine line between reality and the supernatural and keeping us guessing as to which realm the movie falls under. If it falls a little flat once it settles on one side of the fence, at least it was a fun teeter-totter ride.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
This was the final theatrical film for the legendary Barbara Stanwyck, who turned to the small screen after this (going on to the popular series The Big Valley, and a number of TV-movies and mini-series over the next 20 years). Sad but true, Hollywood (particularly the Hollywood of the '60s) is not kind to leading ladies as time goes by, generally relegating them to "mother" roles at best. A leading role with a romantic interest was a rare opportunity, and Stanwyck siezes it with gusto. Shame on Hollywood for not giving her more chances like this.



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