Made on location in the Loire Valley in France, this 99-minute thriller takes a simple, stripped down concept – two people on a biking holiday become isolated and fear they are being stalked by a killer – and then stretches and squeezes it to extract the maximum amount of suspense. The result is a movie that, despite a little bit of padding here and there, offers a fascinating exercise in how to create and sustain jeopardy and even a sense of claustrophobia despite the story all taking place in wide open spaces. It was the clever notion of Brian Clemens, here using the main production personnel that he had just finished working with for nearly a decade on his greatest TV hit, The Avengers (1961-69).
The following is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at his fab Sweet Freedom blog
“Remember the way Hitchcock kept you on the edge of your seat?” – poster tagline
Brian Clemens (whose work I briefly profiled here) is mainly known as the prolific writer-producer behind such TV hits as The Avengers and The Professionals but he also made great cinema films too. After The Avengers ended, Clemens returned to the mystery and suspense formulas that had served him so well during his apprenticeship under the Danzigers, taking a concept and extracting every last bit of drama out of it. These includes And Soon the Darkness and Blind Terror (which I previously reviewed here), in which heroines are isolated by mystery villains and have to extricate from murderous situations, which led to Clemens’ terrific though largely studio-bound anthology drama Thriller (1973-76), which is made up of 43 feature-length mysteries that varied from espionage, horror, psychological suspense and even traditional whodunits, all of which he produced and either wrote or storylined.
And Soon the Darkness stars Pamela Franklin (in one of her last starring movie roles) and Michele Dotrice (both had been notable child actors in the 1960s) as Jane and Cathy, two medical students on a biking holiday. The two separate after a small squabble (Cathy has caught the eye of Paul, a local on a moped, and wants to make friends, Jane wants to stick to the schedule and reach the next major town before nightfall), which is when the suspense kicks in. The entire story, from this point on, is virtually in real time and is set between two points on the stretch of a single country road. Jane heads off in a huff but then doubles back, but Cathy is gone, only leaving behind a pair of panties that she was drying on a bush. The often evasive, slightly mysterious Paul turns up on his Vespa, and tells Jane that another young blonde woman died in the same circumstances three years before and that he helped in the investigation. But can he be trusted? Before long Jane is on the run – but is there really something sinister or is it all a ‘cultural misunderstanding’?
Having begun with the two women trading jokes about the local bathroom facilities (and fair enough, squat toilets are an invention of the devil) and the Italians always pinching womens’ bottoms (yeah, probably true too), the film quickly makes the isolation of the young tourists palpable, with even the two English speakers, Paul and an expat school teacher, seeming quite sinister. The very restricted setting along the single stretch of road does challenge the writers and director to keep the film from seeming too repetitious – and admittedly it would all have been better at about 15 minutes shorter, thus reducing the need to have quite so many of the locals prove to not only not speak English but appear as potential suspects in the earlier murder as well as the disappearance of Cathy. But the location shooting always looks beautiful (and makes the only process screen sequence, between Jane and the schoolteacher when they chat in her car, all the more obvious) and the playing of the two lead actresses is as fresh, naturalistic and appealing as a genre film like this was ever likely to allow. Topped with a full-bodied score by Laurie Johnson (very much in his Bernard Herrmann mode) and some neat twists of the knife at the end and we have a slightly overlong but unusual and mostly engaging exercise in suspense, one that ends with just the right note of triumph, exhaustion and unease – well worth your time.
Brian Clemens selected mystery credits:
- Operation Murder (1957)
- Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) (1960-61) – TV series
- The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
- An Honourable Murder (1960)
- The Pursuers (1961)
- The Court Martial of Major Keller (1961)
- Fate Takes a Hand (1962)
- The Avengers (1961-69) – TV series
- Station Six-Sahara (1963)
- The Champions (1968-69) – TV series
- And Soon the Darkness (1970)
- The Persuaders (1970-71) – TV series
- Blind Terror (1971)
- Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)
- Thriller (1973-76) – TV series
- The New Avengers (1976-77) – TV series
- The Professionals (1978-83) – TV series
- Remington Steele (1984) – TV series
- Father Dowling Investigates (1990-91) – TV series
- Perry Mason (1991-92) – TV series
- Bugs (1995-99) – TV series
The official Clemens website can be found here.
DVD Availability: The film is available in a no frills DVD all round the globe sporting a very strong anamorphic transfer, with only the odd shot showing sings of digital wear and tear.
And Soon the Darkness (1970)
Director: Robert Fuest
Producer: Albert Fennell
Screenplay: Brian Clemens and Terry Nation
Cinematography: Ian Wilson
Art Direction: Philip Harrison
Music: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice, Sandor Elès, John Nettleton, Clare Kelly