Dead of Night

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Dead of Night
American theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced byMichael Balcon
Screenplay by
Based onStories
by H.G. Wells, John Baines, E.F. Benson, Angus MacPhail
Music byGeorges Auric
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Jack Parker
Edited byCharles Hasse
Color processBlack and white
Distributed byEagle-Lion Films (UK) Universal Pictures[3] (US)
Release date
  • 9 September 1945 (1945-09-09) (United Kingdom)
  • 28 June 1946 (1946-06-28) (edited version)
  • 16 July 1946 (1946-07-16) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Dead of Night is a 1945 black and white British anthology horror film, made by Ealing Studios. The individual segments were directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. It stars Mervyn Johns, Googie Withers, Sally Ann Howes and Michael Redgrave. The film is best remembered for the concluding story featuring Redgrave and an insane ventriloquist's malevolent dummy.

Dead of Night is a rare British horror film of the 1940s; horror films were banned from production in Britain during the war. It had an influence on subsequent British films in the genre. Both of John Baines' stories were reused for later films and the possessed ventriloquist dummy episode was adapted into the pilot episode of the long-running CBS radio series Escape.

While primarily in the horror genre, there are shades of the comedy that would make the studio's name.


A car drives up a country road and stops. The man driving the car looks up to see a country cottage and his expression becomes puzzled. He drives up to the cottage, where his host Elliot Foley (Roland Culver) greets him in the driveway. He is Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect whom Foley has invited to his country home in Kent to consult on some renovations. Upon admittance to the sitting room of the cottage, Craig reveals to Foley and his assembled guests that, despite never having met any of them, he has seen them all in a recurring dream.

He appears to have no prior personal knowledge of them, but he is able to predict events in the house before they unfold. Craig partially recalls, with some dismay, that something awful will later occur and becomes increasingly disturbed. Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk), a German-accented psychologist, tries to persuade Craig that his fears are unfounded. The other guests attempt to test Craig's foresight and set him at ease, while entertaining each other with various tales of uncanny or supernatural events that they experienced or were told about. Craig says he has seen each person in his dream, but each one in a different dream.

The film then divides into smaller sections: unconnected sub-stories, each representing a separate dream by Craig.

Dream 1: A racing car driver lies in a hospital bed with a bandaged head. He makes a recovery and flirts with Joyce, his nurse. He stares at his shadow on the wall. He thought it was night, but opens the curtains to see it is daylight and there is a horse-drawn hearse outside. The hearse driver calls up "just room for one inside, sir". He is discharged from the hospital, Park Clinic. He waits for a bus. The conductor leans out and says "just room for one inside, sir"... he has the same face as the hearse driver. The man takes this as an omen and does not get on the bus. The bus has a terrible accident and crashes onto a railway line.

Dream 2: At a Christmas fancy dress party, the children play Blind man's buff. They then play hide and seek in the large mansion. Sally hides behind a curtain and is found by Jimmy. She then finds a secret door. It leads to a nursery, where she hears a young boy weeping. The young boy is dressed oddly. Meanwhile, at the party, they spot Sally's absence. She is singing the boy a lullaby. When she returns to the main room, she is told this wing on the mansion no longer exists.

Dream 3: A sophisticated couple are planning to marry. He is gifted an old mirror by her. When he looks in it, he seems himself, but the room behind him is a different room: a highly ornate bedroom. When they look in the mirror together, he does not see her. If she holds his hand, the reflection is corrected. She discovers a previous owner committed suicide by slitting his own throat while looking in the mirror. She returns to find her fiancé fully observed in a new character. He tries to strangle her in a fit of jealousy. She breaks the mirror to return to normality.

Dream 4: Two golfing friends fall in love with the same girl and decide to play a round of golf to see who gets her. She gleefully agrees. The older man wins, not altogether fairly and the younger man, unable to face life without the girl, drowns himself in the lake. The older man gets the girl. When he next plays golf, the game is constantly interrupted by a ghost. The ghost materialises in the bar and demands he give up the girl, which he agrees. But the second requirement is that he give up golf, which he refuses. The ghost cannot disappear and the older man keeps him at his house. The older man gets married, but finds it hard to kiss his wife with the ghost watching. Dream 4 is a comedy section, but does not fit the pattern of the other dreams, as it is not the dream of an occupant of the room - just a silly story.

Dream 5: Maxwell Frere is being interviewed by Dr. van Straaten. He is a ventriloquist and wants his dummy, Hugo. We then go back in time. Hugo is very rude to guests and to Frere during his show. When Sylvester Kee, a second ventriloquist, enters as a guest, Hugo suggests he should pair with him instead of Frere. Hugo goes too far and Frere slaps him. The audience starts to get unsettled by the show. Frere goes back to his dressing room, but Hugo reappears and asks the ventriloquist to come through. Frere says he cannot bear anyone speaking to Hugo. When Frere puts his hand over Hugo's mouth to stop him from speaking he gets bitten, drawing blood.

At a bar, Frere is too drunk to speak and Hugo deeply insults a lady. Her male companion threatens Frere, who says it is nothing to do with him. He is punched in the face. Sylvester, at the end of the bar, rescues him. Hugo rematerialises in Sylvester's room and Frere shoots Sylvester in jealousy. Frere is imprisoned in an asylum. Hugo is still with him. Apparently, Sylvester is still alive. Hugo threatens to go to him. Dr. van Straaten watches the conversation. When Frere starts to suffocate Hugo, van Straaten tries to save him (as though he were alive). Sylvester visits Frere in the asylum. Frere's personality has switched to that of the dummy. He now speaks with Hugo's voice.

After the stories have been told, a sequence of events begin that trigger Craig. He blames Dr. van Straaten for not letting him leave earlier, then strangles him. He then hallucinates about the various dream stories, appearing in each story - including "just room for one more inside, sir". At the end, he himself is attacked by Hugo.

The whole film is then revealed to be a dream. Craig finally finds himself struggling against his bedclothes in a sunlit bedroom as a phone rings. His wife brings him the phone. It is a call from Elliot Foley, inviting him to his country home to consult on some renovations. Craig's wife suggests that spending a weekend in the country might help him get rid of his terrible nightmares.

Ultimately, Craig drives up a country road to Foley's cottage in Kent as in the start of the film.


Overarching story at farmhouse[edit]

(Directed by Basil Dearden)

The Hearse Driver[edit]

(Directed by Basil Dearden; based on "The Bus-Conductor" by E. F. Benson, published in The Pall Mall Magazine in 1906)

  • Anthony Baird as Hugh Grainger
  • Judy Kelly as Joyce Grainger
  • Miles Malleson as the hearse driver/ bus conductor
  • Robert Wyndham as Dr. Albury

The Christmas Party[edit]

(Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; story by Angus MacPhail)

  • Michael Allan as Jimmy Watson
  • Sally Ann Howes as Sally O'Hara
  • Barbara Leake as Mrs. O'Hara
  • ? as Francis Kent the ghost

The Haunted Mirror[edit]

(Directed by Robert Hamer; story by John Baines)

The Golfer's Story[edit]

(Directed by Charles Crichton; based on "The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost" by H. G. Wells)


Parratt and Potter, as portrayed by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne in the golfing story, are derivative of the characters Charters and Caldicott from Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). The double-act proved to be popular enough that Radford and Wayne were paired up as similar sport-obsessed English gentlemen (or occasionally reprising their original roles) in a number of productions, including this one. The name change neatly sidestepped any copyright issues.[citation needed]

The Ventriloquist's Dummy[edit]

(Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, story by John Baines)


The film opened at the Gaumont Haymarket cinema in London on 9 September 1945.[1]


Box office[edit]

According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed well at the British box office in 1945.[4] The 'biggest winner' at the box office in 1945 Britain was The Seventh Veil, with "runners up" being (in release order), Madonna of the Seven Moons, Old Acquaintance, Frenchman's Creek, Mrs. Parkington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet Me in St. Louis, A Song to Remember, Since You Went Away, Here Come the Waves, Tonight and Every Night, Hollywood Canteen, They Were Sisters, The Princess and the Pirate, The Adventures of Susan, National Velvet, Mrs. Skefflington, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Nob Hill, Perfect Strangers, Valley of Decision, Conflict and Duffy's Tavern. British "runners-up" were They Were Sisters, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Perfect Strangers, Madonna of the Seven Moons, Waterloo Road, Blithe Spirit, The Way to the Stars, I'll Be Your Sweetheart, Dead of Night, Waltz Time and Henry V.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

From a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin praised the tale of the ventriloquist, stating that it was "perhaps the best" and that it was perhaps Cavalcanti's "most polished work for many years".[3] The review praised Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne for "providing excellent comic relief", and concluded that the art direction (Michael Relph), lighting (Stan Pavey and Douglas Slocombe) and editing (Charles Hassey) combine to make the smoothest film yet to come from an English studio".[3] Film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 4 out of a possible 4 stars.[6]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 93% based on 42 reviews, with a rating average of 8.22/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "With four accomplished directors contributing, Dead of Night is a classic horror anthology that remains highly influential."[7]


The circular plot of Dead of Night inspired Fred Hoyle's steady state model of the universe, developed in 1948.[8]

Mario Livio in Brilliant Blunders cites the impact of a viewing of Dead of Night had on astrophysicists Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi, and Thomas Gold. "Gold asked suddenly, "What if the universe is like that?' meaning that the universe could be eternally circling on itself without beginning or end. Unable to dismiss this conjecture, they started to think seriously of an unchanging universe, a steady state universe.

In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films.[9] Dead of Night placed at number 35 on their top 100 list.[10] Director Martin Scorsese placed Dead of Night 5th on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[11] Writer/director Christopher Smith was inspired by the circular narrative in Dead of Night when making his 2009 film Triangle.[12]

A shot of Redgrave from the film is featured on the cover of Merrie Land, an album by The Good, the Bad & the Queen.[13]


The theme of a recurring nightmare has been visited in other works and media:

The theme of the mad ventriloquist and his dummy with a life of its own has been visited in other works and media:

The theme of the fatal crash premonition has also been visited in other works and media:

  • "The Bus-Conductor", a short story by E. F. Benson published in The Pall Mall Magazine in 1906 which was the basis for the segment in Dead of Night
  • Famous Ghost Stories, a 1944 anthology by Bennett Cerf which retells the Benson short story, but changes the main character to a woman and transfers the action to New York City
  • "Twenty Two", a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone inspired by the Cerf story

The theme of a mirror casting a murderous spell has been visited in other works and media:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Basil Radford & Naunton Wayne". Art & Hue. 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. ^ "Dead of Night (Original)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c K.F.B (1945). "Entertainment Films". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 12 no. 141. British Film Institute. p. 105.
  4. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p 208
  5. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout: Reinventing Women for Wartime British Cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  6. ^ Leonard Maltin (29 September 2015). Turner Classic Movies Presents Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965: Third Edition. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-698-19729-9.
  7. ^ "Dead of Night (1945)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  8. ^ Jane Gregory, Fred Hoyle's Universe, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-850791-7, pp.36–7
  9. ^ "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  10. ^ NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  11. ^ Billington, Alex (30 October 2009). "Cool Stuff: Martin Scorsese Picks 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time!". First Showing. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  12. ^ "Director Chris Smith on Triangle". Retrieved 14 November 2012.[dead link]
  13. ^ "The Good, the Bad & the Queen: Merrie Land review – Damon Albarn's scattergun sketch of Britain". The Guardian. 16 November 2018.


  • Jerry Vermilye, The Great British Films, 1978, Citadel Press, pp. 85–87, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
  • Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates, "Devil's Advocates: Dead of Night", 2015, Auteur, ISBN 978-0993238437

External links[edit]