Dir: Peter Graham Scott
Star: Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain
a.k.a. Night Creatures
In 1776, notorious smuggler Captain Clegg is eluding the British Navy. After one of the crew attacks his wife, the mulatto perpetrator has his tongue cut out and is dumped on a deserted island to die. However, the Navy, under Captain Collier (Allen), rescue him and he joins their crew. 16 years later, Collier is investigating smugglers based in the coastal village of Dymchurch, where Clegg’s grave lies. The mulatto leaps at Dr. Blyss (Cushing), the local parson, apparently enraged – but the illiterate mute is unable to explain his actions to Collier. It hardly counts as a spoiler to reveal that Blyss is actually Clegg, who faked his death at the hangman’s hands, to start a new life, doing good [Well, if you discount his position as the head of the local smugglers, I suppose]. To add spice, the local squire’s son, Harry (Reed), has set his cap at Imogene (Romain), Clegg’s “orphan” daughter. That is not to the tastes of her guardian, who is also at odds with Blyss over the running of the gang.
Thouhh Hammer were best known for their Dracula and Frankenstein horror movies, this is a lesser-known gem in their collection, Cushing and Allen giving first-class performances as the adversaries. Blyss/Clegg is an ambiguous character, somewhat like Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein. We also enjoyed the luminescent skeletal costumes worn by the smugglers, even if this felt like something from Scooby-Doo. [Did they really have glow-in-the-dark paint in 1792? I doubt it.] Director Scott wasn’t a Hammer regular, but then, this is more of a swashbuckler than their usual fare, and he acquits himself well enough. While I can’t say the romance between Harry and Imogene quite sets the screen on fire, it’s there mostly to show Clegg’s humanity as the film heads towards its climax. The moral ambiguity here is quite startling given its time, and the production values are good enough to pull off the period atmosphere. If slightly out of the norm for the studio, it’s a solid piece of action-drama.
[Also starring: Allen also did the voice-over work for the UK government’s Protect and Survive films, which brought him fresh renown in the 1980’s as the voice-over on Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes: “Mine is the last voice you will ever hear…”]