Liz Unhinged

'Night Watch'

by Michael Barrett

3 February 2012

Is she crazy or just hyperventilating?
 
cover art

Night Watch

Director: Brian G. Hutton
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey

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Night Watch is a British thriller from Elizabeth Taylor’s most interesting period, not necessarily the same as her best period. Her best period was her stunning debutante youth, when she seems a radically different actress from what I’m calling her interesting period: her post-Virginia Woolf attempts of the late 60s and early 70s to choose odd, unusual, ambitious projects that flopped and earned increasing critical scorn. This is the period marked by her idiosyncratic hyperventilated delivery, which somehow goes hand in hand with the outré nature of the projects.

These films are highly watchable (at least the ones I’ve tracked down) and include Joseph Losey’s Secret Ceremony and Boom, John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye about being married to a repressed homosexual husband (ahem), an all-star version of Graham Greene’s The Comedians about political unrest in Haiti (with another fine late performance from Lillian Gish), the neglected existential oddity The Driver’s Seat, the crazy Hammersmith Is Out, George Stevens’ swansong The Only Game in Town with Warren Beatty, George Cukor’s disastrous floperoo Soviet co-production of The Blue Bird, and the lovely Under Milk Wood (though she has only an eyeblink cameo). Several of these star then-husband Richard Burton.
  
This one’s a stage-adapted Gothic thriller in which she’s the crazy wife who claims to witness a murder through the rear window, while we suspect her hubby Laurence Harvey (her co-star from Butterfield 8) is having it off with her BFF Billie Whitelaw. Not much can be discussed about this tight three-person suspenser, as there are only so many possible twists in the inevitable twist ending. Maybe some will consider me masochistic, but again I find Ms. Taylor very watchable, perhaps because that hyperventilation matches her hysteria.

The original play is by Lucille Fletcher, here offering a variation on her theme in Sorry Wrong Number about the woman in danger whom nobody believes. Fletcher’s husband was composer Bernard Herrmann, who at this time was scoring another UK Gothic now on Warner Archive, The Night Digger.

Director Brian G. Hutton is better known for the epic-scale Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes, but he actually did two intimate Taylor dramas at this time, the other being the even more obscure X, Y and Zee. That’s the one where Taylor makes love to Susannah York. Amazingly, it’s now available on-demand through Warner Archive, as is Night Watch. Here we come, Liz.

Night Watch

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