Sunday, 5 July 2020

Night of the Eagle

Night of the Eagle Peter Wyngarde
Based on the Fritz Leiber novel 'Conjure Wife' with a screenplay by legendary 'Twilight Zone' writer Charles Beaumont, 'I Am Legend' author Richard Matheson and 'Circus of Horrors' writer George Baxt, 'Night of the Eagle' (or 'Burn, Witch, Burn!' in the US) is the story of Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) a college lecturer and belligerent non-believer railing against belief in magic and the supernatural who discovers that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch who claims their perfect life is all down to her conjurings.  After forcing her to burn her paraphenalia he soon comes to regret his position as his life rapidly falls apart.

From the opening credits featuring a sole  staring, unblinking eye this is a singularly confrontational movie.  Accusations of favouritism, of cheating, of sexual assault, of violence, of naivety abound from the moment that Norman destroys Tansy's magical wards.  He's under constant attack, whether he believes it or not, from the very outset of the movie and it's only as his rationalist view of the world crumbles around him that he begins to tentatively accept that there are other forces at work but even then he tries desperately to cling to his scientific bias and attributes events and actions to hypnosis rather than magic.

Blair is more than a little histrionic as the devoted and terrified wife and Wyngarde in his first and only movie lead role has yet to fully develop into the flamboyant character he was to become by the end of the decade but makes for a convincing action hero if not a particularly convincing sociologist.  It feels a very loud movie due to the performances of both leads and the exhausting, overly insistent music but it builds it's atmosphere of menace with a stealthy ease and a measured pace that is simply irresistible.  When the titular night does finally arrive what could have been quite a silly ending is simple and effective (even if you can quite clearly see the birds lead at one point).

It's a real shame that this film has been overlooked so much by genre fans - I wonder if, like I did for a long time, many have looked at the title and written it off as a war movie in the vein of 'The Eagle Has Landed' or 'Where Eagles Dare' - because it has much to offer.  The magic in the film is subtle and the practitioners are shown to be entirely modern women not 'witchy' caricatures who are acting on entirely modern (for the era) impulses and the film itself has been crafted with care and attention to producing a story that leans heavily on the supernatural but retains just enough of an enigma to it that you leave still with questions left tantalisingly unanswered.

Buy it here - Night of the Eagle [DVD] [1962] - or watch it below.



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2 comments:

  1. Fabulous, thank you. In some respects this feels like a sister film to 'Night Of The Demon'. Looking around online I found an excellent selection of covers for the original book, first published April 1943 in Unknown Worlds magazine.

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    1. Oh absolutely. There's a real shared world feel about lots of these these films. You can easily imagine this one, 'Night of the Demon', 'Dead of Night' and even 'The Innocents' all being part of the same haunted landscape.

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