Man runs his course;
A brand, or flaming breath.
Comes to destroy
All those antinomies
Of day and night;
The body calls it death,
The heart remorse.
But if these be right
What is joy?
No man has ever lived that had enough
Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.
No longer in Lethean foliage caught
Begin the preparation for your death
And from the fortieth winter by that thought
Test every work of intellect or faith,
And everything that your own hands have wrought
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.
from “Vacillation,” W.B. Yeats
Dead of Night, 1945
In the 1930’s and 40’s Britain’s Ealing Studios made some of the most charming (and British) films ever made. Seriously, check any number of their comedies out you will fall in love with them. In 1945, they also made their sole horror effort, Dead of Night, one of the first and still the greatest Horror Anthology film ever made.
For those of you looking for a fun Halloween film but are not fans of horror films- are looking for something fun, good natured (but with a bit of a bite), creepy but not scary-this is your perfect film.
It’s all sorts of wrong for me to use part of a poem from an Irishman to introduce such a uniquely British film, but it does capture the mood and tone of this film. Sure it deals with death and madness, loss and absurdity, but it does so with a defiant glee. Yeats himself was quite nihilistic about the state of affairs in Ireland and the failure of his own various projects at the time he wrote the above poem and perhaps in the shadow of the Second World War, Brits felt the same way. In a film for an international audience like Mrs. Miniver Brits had to put on a stoic, solemn face. But in a film like this, for British audiences we may find a better, less measured working out of anxiety. That, perhaps, trapped under the very real and possibly continuous threat of destruction, all anyone could do was to go “open eyed and laughing to the tomb.”
Then again, perhaps the film, like many of Ealing’s comedies, is a comedy of manners. As Peter Bradshaw wrote “The creaky, old-fashioned feel gives it its period flavour; it’s a part of its icy seriousness and compelling sense of ingenuous English decency being molested by unspeakable evil.” In a way each story tells of upper class life and manners as well as social space being disturbed by supernatural forces. This is most memorably present in the film’s final story, as far as I am aware the first evil ventriloquist dummy tale on film and still the best.
Also, you can finally understand this Simpsons reference:
“Room for one More”
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