“Salem come to supper” – Rediscovering ‘The Night Visitor’ (Swe/Den 1971 – 106 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - February 22, 2014
“Salem come to supper” – Rediscovering ‘The Night Visitor’ (Swe/Den 1971 – 106 mins)

‘If your skin doesn’t crawl, it’s on too tight!’

Produced by famed actor Mel Ferrer, the excellent gothic thriller ‘The Night Visitor’, is one of the Seventies most atmospheric films. With its snowy landscapes and harsh icy winds, you can practically feel the freezing temperature just watching it.

The engrossing story has a man; Salem, wrongly imprisoned in an asylum, for an axe murder he didn’t commit. Knowing that it was his sister and her husband who were responsible, the wronged man plots both his escape and revenge. He works out how to break out of his cell, seek vengeance, then make it back to his cell before morning. Thereby giving him an air-tight alibi.

Outstanding Swedish actor; Max Von Sydow, is perfect as the inmate hell bent on revenge. Two years before he was Father Merrin in ‘The Exorcist’, Von Sydow took on this physically demanding role with much vigour. How he kept himself from freezing in the outdoor scenes wearing only a t-shirt and shorts with his socks and boots, is a feat in itself. The almost silent scenes of Salem’s seemingly impossible breakout from the impregnable cliff-top building are expertly staged and immensely thrilling.

Looking convincingly cold throughout, Trevor Howard is great as the inspector, doggedly pursuing Salem across the winter terrain. Ingmar Bergman regular Liv Ullman always plays nervous brilliantly, and here she is perfect as the permanently frightened sister, waiting for the truth to out. Prolific Swedish character actor Per Oscarsson is also excellent as Ullman’s doctor husband. Renowned support comes from Rupert Davies as the barrister responsible for Salem’s imprisonment, Andrew Kier as the asylum’s warden, and Arthur Hewlett as a chess loving warden.

Hungarian director Laslo Benedek’s Hollywood career got off to a great start with 1951’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, and two years later, the early Brando bike movie; ‘The Wild One’ (’53). Benedek would spend most of his career thereafter mostly in television, before making a brief comeback with ‘The Night Visitor’. Multi Oscar-winning composer Henry Mancini provided the films unsettling score.

The prolonged scene where we get to see every stage of Salem’s escape is masterfully shot and genuinely thrilling. Just as thrilling are the scenes showing his return to his cell. The way he manages to lock himself back in, using just a piece of cotton to shut the hatch from the outside, is beautiful to watch.

‘The Night Visitor’ remains a nifty psychological chiller, with many thrilling moments and a memorable final scene. That damn parrot!

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