Dead of Night

Dead of Night is a 1945 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 most remembered for the concluding story, which features Redgrave and concerns a ventriloquist's malevolent dummy.

Dead of Night stands out from British films of the 1940s, when few horror films were being produced there (horror films had been 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 recycled for later films and the possessed ventriloquist dummy episode was adapted into the pilot episode of the long-running CBS radio series Escape.

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 byCarl W. Stalling
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byCharles Hasse
Distributed byEagle-Lion Films (UK) Universal Pictures[2] (US)
Release date
  • 15 October 1945 (United Kingdom)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) wakes up after a terrible nightmare, which leads his wife to suggest to him that he spend a weekend in the country. Craig has been invited by Elliot Foley (Roland Culver) to his country home in Kent to consult on some renovations. Upon arrival at the cottage, he 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 spontaneous 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.

These include a racing car driver's premonition of a fatal bus crash announced by a mysterious man who says "just room for one inside, sir", a ghostly encounter during a children's Christmas party (a tale cut from the initial US release), a haunted antique mirror, a light-hearted tale of two obsessed golfers, one of whom becomes haunted by the other's ghost (also cut from the initial US release) and the story of an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believes his amoral dummy is truly alive.

The framing story is then capped by a twist ending in which Craig murders one of the guests, then escapes into a feverish montage of scenes and characters from the house guests' tales. At the climax, the dummy Hugo is strangling him when Craig suddenly wakes up at home from the nightmare to the sound of a phone ringing. The phone call is from Elliot Foley, inviting him to his country home to consult on some renovations. As the end credits roll, Craig is again driving up to Foley's cottage, exactly as in the film's opening, seemingly doomed to repeat the same nightmarish cycle over and over again for the rest of his life.


Framing sequence

(Directed by Basil Dearden)

The Hearse Driver

(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
  • Robert Wyndham as Dr. Albury

The Christmas Party

(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

The Haunted Mirror

(Directed by Robert Hamer; story by John Baines)

The Golfer's Story

(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.

The Ventriloquist's Dummy

(Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; story by John Baines)


Dead of Night was released in the United States on 9 September 1945.[3]


Box Office

According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed well at the British box office in 1945.[4]

Critical reception

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 96%, based on 28 reviews, with a rating average of 8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "With four accomplished directors contributing, Dead of Night is a classic horror anthology that remains highly influential."[5] 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".[2] The review commented on Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne for "providing excellent comic relief".[2] The review concluded that 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".[2] Film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 4 out of a possible 4 stars.[6]


The circular plot of Dead of Night inspired Fred Hoyle's steady state model of the universe, developed in 1948.[7]

Mario Livio in Brilliant Blunders cites the impact of a viewing of Dead of Night had on astrophysicists Fred Hoyle, Herman 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.[8] Dead of Night placed at number 35 on their top 100 list.[9] Director Martin Scorsese placed Dead of Night on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[10] Writer/director Christopher Smith was inspired by the circular narrative in Dead of Night when making his 2009 film Triangle.[11]

A shot of Redgrave from the film is featured on the cover of Merrie Land, an album by The Good, the Bad & the Queen.[12]


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

The theme of the mad ventriloquist 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



  1. ^ "Dead of Night (Original)". British Film Institute. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d K.F.B (1945). "Entertainment Films". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 12 no. 141. British Film Institute. p. 105.
  3. ^ Blaise, Judd. "Dead of Night". AllMovie. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  4. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p 208
  5. ^ "Dead of Night 91945) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  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. ^ Jane Gregory, Fred Hoyle's Universe, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-850791-7, pp.36–7
  8. ^ "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  9. ^ NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  10. ^ Scorsese, Martin (28 October 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 15 November 2009.
  11. ^ "Director Chris Smith on Triangle". Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  12. ^ "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

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Selected films directed by Alberto Cavalcanti
Feature films
Short films
The films of Charles Crichton
Films directed by Basil Dearden
Films directed by Robert Hamer
Films produced by Michael Balcon

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