Stranger in the Night – Rediscovering ‘Miriam’ (US 1969 – 31 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - November 05, 2014
Stranger in the Night – Rediscovering ‘Miriam’ (US 1969 – 31 mins)

The rarely seen anthology film ‘Trilogy’, by famed writer Truman Capote, tells three diverse tales of loneliness and companionship. While the second and especially third segments are also enjoyable, it was the films first memorable story which I found to be the highlight.

Entitled ‘Miriam’, it tells the sometimes amusing but ultimately creepy tale of a busy-body chatterbox called Miriam Miller, an elderly spinster who lives a lonely life in her apartment with only her beloved parrot to talk to. A former nanny who surrounds herself with photos of past acquaintances, she is the type of overbearing old lady that people avoid. One day while queuing up at the cinema, a little girl walks up to her and asks if she can accompany the old lady to the pictures. The child is also called Miriam and is soon turning up at the old ladies home and inviting herself in. At first Miriam is glad of the company, but the little girl soon turns out to be a rather obnoxious child who revels in telling Miriam some hurtful home truths. In the story’s powerful climax, the little girls unkind outburst results in a moment of madness from the kindly old lady.

Although minor characters flitter in and out of the story, this is really a two-hander between the two Miriam’s. Veteran actress and John Ford regular; Mildred Natwick, is superb as the rather pitiful former nanny, a now lonely old lady who has spent a lifetime raising other people’s children while never experiencing a true love of her own. In her only screen role, young Susan Dunfee is unforgettable as the once sweet but ultimately terrifying little girl. Her reappearance at the very end when she looks at the terrified old woman and, with a sly smile, gives a seemingly warm “hello”, is one of the most foreboding and frightening moments I have seen. You now realise that this tormented old lady is never going to be rid of this devil-child.

Directed by master storyteller Frank Perry, and co-written by his wife Eleanor, this first story works well because the reason behind the appearance of the little girl is never explained. Is the child a younger version of Miriam, really there to help? or is she something far more sinister?

A gripping supernatural themed tale of childhood, loneliness and regret, ‘Miriam’ will stay with you long after it’s over, and warrants repeated viewings. It’s an unforgettable half hour in which the simple greeting of “hello” has never sounded so menacing.

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