And Soon the Darkness (1970) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie

And-soon-the-darkness-posterMade 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

***** (2.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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42 Responses to And Soon the Darkness (1970) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie

  1. Hmm….I do give Fuest a lot of credit for going with this interesting premise, Sergio. And I can certainly see how it could be really effective if done well. What impresses me, too, is that it relies on the psychological, rather than on more stereotypical thriller ‘tools.’ I’m glad you found it worth a watch, and thanks, as ever, for your excellent review.

  2. Colin says:

    Hmm, I really ought to give this movie another go. I found it tough going when I last saw it but that’s a very long time ago now.

    • Well, I know what you mean really and BLIND TERROR is definitely more successfull (if more conventional) – it is a bit over-extended due to the limited premise but I really admire that they set themselves the challenge in the first place

      • Colin says:

        Yeah, I would have been a lot younger last time I saw it, and maybe less patient as a result. That kind of thing does stretch a relatively simple story out and sometimes a few more years under the belt leaves one a bit more tolerant. I’d like to give it another go but I’m not straining at the leash to do so either. Thanks for reminding me of Blind Terror/ See No Evil though – just placed an order for a used copy as it happens.

        • You should have told me I could lend you mine! Mind you, not hard to find, I admit … I think i felt the same way in my dim and and increasingly distant past. Now I appreciate the effort more, even if the effect is only so-so …

          • Colin says:

            No problem, I got it for peanuts.
            I remember getting frustrated on occasion when I was younger if I felt a tale was being spun out more than was really necessary. I still prefer the concise approach where possible but I’m a little more patient – still like the payoff to be worthwhile though.

          • Yes, I agree – I think ambiguity was not high on my list of priorities as a teen, lets put it that way! I do regret that the time has passed that a film like this would not be considered commercially viable as it and would need to be tricked out further … Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is a good example of this.

          • Colin says:

            Oh yeah, no way a movie of this kind could be made nowadays, at least not by one of the major outfits. Pity.

          • The trailer for the remake provides an interesting example of what can happen nowadays …

          • Colin says:

            That looks incredibly generic and forgettable, the plus side being it makes the original seem a whole lot more attractive. 🙂

          • That is true, though it looks like they followed it very closely – and I like Karl Urban (he’s great as Bones in the new Trek films, though I thought the latest a bit bland).

          • Colin says:

            Not seen any of those actually. I think the only thing I’ve seen Urban in was Dredd, which was OK.

          • Not seen that – I actually payed to see the Stallone version, can you believe it?

          • Colin says:

            Oh, if I were to get started on crummy movies I’ve spent money to see, we could be in for a long night!

          • Very true 🙂 There are almost no films I have ever walked out of though. I mean, I left half way through THE MISSION but that was because my girlfriend at the time was feeling poorly. There are lots of films I wish I had;t bothered to go and see, but, have you often walked out of a movie? I am having real trouble thinking of one. I even sat and watched ISHTAR!

          • Colin says:

            I don’t believe I have, but I’d need to think on that a bit to be sure. I remember going to see Silent Hill when it came out – no, don’t ask! – and I came perilously close to walking out on that crud.

          • I admire your dedication to the job mate (but rather you than me) 🙂

          • Colin says:

            Something which may have been better received but provoked a similar reaction in me was Hannibal, where I remember leaving the cinema feeling really depressed. I find that with a lot of modern horror; there is something so mean-spirited about it all that I can’t be bothered with it.

          • I’m with you completely on this – I recognised that Hannibal was beautifully shot, but I found it incredibly shallow and depressing. And don;t get me started on Scott’s Prometheus … I’m not big on horror but thought Silence of the Lambs was terrific, and even Red Dragon was OK in my book on the whole (I’m not crazy about the cool approach of Michael Mann, so Manhunter, despite some exceptional performances and design, has never really been a favourite).

          • Colin says:

            You know, I saw Prometheus on TV a few weeks ago and thought it was truly dire – I’m glad I’m not alone on that score.

          • And yet was a huge hit – so what does that say about us? Yeah, they’re all wrong!!!

          • Colin says:

            Frankly I just feel it’s a genre which for the most part doesn’t, or at least has ceased to, speak to me.

          • Yeah, I mean, I know we have discussed this in the past but horror was never big for me when I was a teen in the 1980s. But I really enjoyed the work of Landis, Cronenberg, Carpenter, Clive Barker and so on and remain a fan still, along with the likes of Bava and Argento from my home turf. But on the whole, and I have so many friends who adore the genre, it doesn’t really speak to me at all per se so I am less forgiving, I suppose? I certainly don’t understand the obsession with zombies at all, though Dawn of the Dead is a very funny and clever movie a well as gross (the Romero I mean). Give me a film noir, a murder mystery or a Western and I am much more likely to be instantly engaged

  3. Never heard of it but like the sound of it – definitely one to keep an eye out for!

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    Nope that was Pamela Ferdin. I am thinking of her from THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, I think.

  5. I would’ve been too young to see this when it was new, but I remember it from a later time when some friends and I, all young women, enjoyed being terrified by it – all too easy to imagine ourselves in the plot. (I wonder did we see it on TV? It wasn’t so easy in those days to watch something from a few years before.) It certainly did the job, even seeing your title had me back in the zone…

  6. ravenking81 says:

    I watched this a few weeks ago and thought it was rather tedious. It doesn’t have enough shocks to qualify as a horror movie, and for a thriller it’s far too predictable. I think mystery lovers will spot the real culprit long before the end. But I guess this is just one of those movies which might have felt fresh and exciting when it came out, but seems like an old hat today.

  7. Ann says:

    I remember both the actresses. I seem to remember Michele Dotrice’s father might also be an actor. I’ll have to look out for this – sounds like it would be good for the scenery alone.
    Ann

    • Thanks Ann – yes, she is the daughter of Roy Dotrice, probably best known for his role as Hallyne in Game of Thrones now but who I remember liking a lot as the as the community elder on the 1980s TV version of Beauty and the Beast starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton and the original baddie in the pilot for Space 1999.

  8. John says:

    I have no idea what that exchange between you and Patti means. Why does she say Nope it was Pamela Ferdin? It’s not in response to anything. I’m confused. BTW, it’s Pamelyn Ferdin, not Pamela. That’s your weekly hairsplitter tidbit. ;^)

    I always liked Pamela Franklin. She did a lot more US TV than movies. I think she did a guest star stint on almost every show on the air during the 1970s. LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of my favorite movies and one of her best roles. For years I had always thought she was American! I think only recently did it finally dawn on me that she was just remarkably good at doing the accent.

    • Thanks for that correction John 🙂 Admittedly, I am not sure if Patti was just joshing me or not but Ferdin was great in the underrated The Beguiled, so very glad to have her name checked. I agree about Franklin and Hell House, a film I really like. The US Blu-ray has an audio commemntary by her so am keen to get it, especially as it has long been rumoured that the film was cut back by AIP to get a lower rating. Once upon a blogpost ago, Todd Mason said that the original Matheson book was not very good but I think the movie is terrific (a great homage to Jackson’s Hill House). In fact, I couldn’t stop myself, I have just ordered it, so will report back. You are always getting me to buy stuff, you know that John? Never regretted it though … 🙂

  9. As ever, enjoyed your thoughtful review, Sergio. Brian Clemens and his work are totally new to me.

  10. tracybham says:

    This sounds very interesting, although I get more freaked out by psychological suspense, than violence. I would probably be hiding my eyes the first time through.

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