I recorded 1973’s Night Watch off of TCM on March 17th!
There’s a tendency, among critics, to dismiss almost every film that Elizabeth Taylor made after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Sure, Reflections In A Golden Eye has its defenders but, otherwise, Taylor’s later films are often viewed as being overproduced and self-indulgent with Taylor giving uncertain, occasionally histrionic performances.
Those criticisms aren’t entirely unjustified. Some of it may have been due to her own notoriously poor health and her troubled marriage to Richard Burton. Even more of it was probably due to Taylor’s struggle to remain relevant as a middle-aged actress working in the 1970s. I have to admit that I’m strangely fascinated by the latter half of Taylor’s film career, just because it does feature so many bizarre films and strange performances. Taylor was always a good actress but, in her later films, it was hard not to get feeling that her stardom was her own worst enemy. Taylor was often cast specifically because of her notoriety and she often seemed to work with directors who weren’t willing to reign her in whenever she started to go overboard.
That, however, doesn’t mean that every film that she made in the 70s was a bad one.
Take Night Watch, for instance. Yesterday, as I watched Night Watch, I asked myself, “How is it that I’ve never seen or even heard of this film before!?”
Because seriously, Night Watch was really good.
Liz plays Ellen Wheeler, an apparently unstable woman living in the UK. She’s haunted by the night that her first husband was killed in a car crash, along with his mistress. Ellen has remarried but she worries that her new husband, John (Laurence Harvey), might be cheating on her with her best friend, Sarah (Billie Whitelaw). It turns out that she has good reason to be worried because that’s exactly what John is doing! It’s not that John doesn’t love Ellen. It’s just that he doesn’t know how to deal with her constant nightmares and delusions.
For instance, Ellen is convinced that she’s witnessed a murder! She says that, in the abandoned house next door, she saw a man with a slit throat. Later, she claims that she saw a woman murdered over there as well. When the police investigate, they find no one in the house. But Ellen swears she saw something. She even suspects that her neighbor, Mr. Appleby (Robert Lang), may have buried the bodies in his garden.
(Mr. Appleby is not amused by the suggestion.)
Is Ellen going crazy or did she really see something? I bet you think you already know the answer. I know that I did. But then Night Watch ends with a twist that is shockingly effective and unexpected. For once, I didn’t know how the movie was going to end and now, a day later, I’m still thinking about those final scenes.
Night Watch has its flaws. With the exception of when he played Col. Travis in The Alamo, Laurence Harvey was never a particularly sympathetic actor and he comes across as his usual cold self in Night Watch. And, as good as Taylor is, there are still a few moments where she does go a bit overboard. During the first half of the film, you have to make your way through a lot of yelling to get to the good part.
But that good part is so good that it’s worth it! Night Watch is a genuinely atmospheric and surprising film, one that catches you off guard and one in which the tension does not relent until the final credit has rolled across the screen. Ellen’s nightmares are especially well-realized and the film’s final moments are both frightening and surprisingly graphic. This is a film that sticks with you.
If you haven’t seen it yet, keep a watch for it!