The Nightcomers (1971)
The first question posed by The Nightcomers (other than "why bother making it in the first place?") has to be "how the bloody hell did Brando get up in that tree?"
As monsyllabic gardener Peter Quint (and when he does speak his accent is so astonishing that it was only beaten nearly 30 years later by Brad Pitt's in Snatch), we first see The Blobfather playing hide and seek with children Flora and Miles. They run past, oblivious to the fact that the fat berk is sitting high up in a tree watching them. I can only surmise that:
a. The block-and-tackle and fork-lift truck are just out of shot;
b. they cut the scene shortly before the tree fell over.
Why am I wandering off the point so dramatically, you may well ask. Because The Nightcomers is shite, that's why. I've got to fill this page with interesting bon mots about the thing, and there isn't even any of the torrid sex action that the (frankly legally actionable) publicity photos promised.
Anyone who's seen The Turn Of The Screw or The Innocents knows the plot anyway, as the idea of this film is to show us (again) the events that lead up to Henry James' classic tale.
Miles and Flora are two rejects from The Railway Children who have been left in the care of a governess (Stephanie Beacham) and a maid (Thora Hird) at the home of their dead parents, because their new guardian simply can't be arsed to look after them. Quint was the gardener, but is now given free reign to wander about giving cigarettes to frogs and other essential jobs. The kids like his truly original take on life far more than stuffy old Beacham's boring old lessons, and gradually come under his spell.
As is Beacham, who spends much of the film being rogered senseless by the cocky varmint. Typical exchanges involve her calling him a "brute" before acquiesing to being tied up like a "chicken on a spit" (his words) and taken roughly from behind. Disturbingly, the children have been spying on the couple's kinky games and are starting to act them out themselves. Even more disturbingly, the viewer is denied any decent shots of a naked Beacham by overlayed images of trees blowing in the wind. Curse you, Michael Winner!
As the kids start practising voodoo and Miles fantasises about shooting Hird in the throat with an arrow (the only vaguely horrific image, at 52 minutes in), a chance remark by Brando leads to his and Beacham's eventual downfall.
The Nightcomers is pretty poor, really. Winner does a good job with the scenery (every shot looks gorgeous - all misty and wintery), but because it's a prequel to the scary goings-on of The Turn Of The Screw, it just sort of ends. Plus you get Brando doing a boring and unnecessary bit of improv to camera (as has been noted elsewhere, it's like Winner didn't dare tell him to shut up) which kills the whole thing stone dead. Luckily, Beacham is on hand to give one laugh towards the end, as her comedy cross-eyed death face has to be seen to be believed.
And where else are you going to see Marlon Brando and Thora Hird on the same bill?
Last updated: February 25, 2010
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