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Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: ‘Night Watch’

Nothing good ever came from looking out a window

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest, most memorable, and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction, this column examines the films that will leave a lasting impression for centuries to come.

Remember in Rear Window when Jeff thinks he witnessed a murder? Remember how his nurse and girlfriend believed him? That’s the main difference between Rear Window and Night Watch, which features a similar story through the female perspective.  Turn up your gaslight and let’s talk about this week’s strange and fantastic tale 1973’s Night Watch

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Based on a play by Lucille Fletcher and directed by Brian Hutton, Elizabeth Taylor dials up her performance to an eleven in this gothic mystery. Taylor plays Ellen Wheeler, a woman tormented by memories of her dead first husband. She lives in an elegant home with her husband John, played by Laurence Harvey. Billie Whitelaw plays Sarah, Ellen’s scandalous and glamorous best friend, who is in town for a visit. Sarah spends her time lounging about the Wheeler home and only leaves to rendezvous with her married boyfriend. 

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Night Watch'

Ellen’s home is a beautiful estate, but it happens to be right next to a house that has long since been abandoned. One night during a storm, as the wind blows open the shutters, she catches a glimpse of a dead body. Was it a trick of the moonlight, the lightning,or  too many Highballs? Or did somebody want her to see something? 

Taylor gives an amazing performance. She is pitiful and fierce while portraying vulnerability and strength. Her trauma is exacerbated by painful memories of her dead husband and his mistress, who both died in a violent car accident. Graphic images of bloody bodies weave their way through her pill induced haze as she tries to piece together her sanity. The events that plague her are only made worse by John and Sarah who keep telling her she’s only projecting her grief from her first marriage and imagining things. Can you guess who Sarah’s married boyfriend might be? 

Paola Bracho Reaction GIF by MOODMAN

It is of particular interest to the plot and character development that Ellen does not have a support system. The film makes a thought provoking statement on how past traumas can be weaponized against a person. Ellen Wheeler becomes less anchored from reality when she does not feel supported by her loved ones. The audience can feel her desperation and frustration as intuition gives way to fear, which ultimately leads to the truth.

Night Watch is creepy viewing for a stormy night. It’s an angry film, but it’s also highly atmospheric. Brimming with high drama and fashion, Night Watch is a movie that will frustrate and engage you. Take your pills and settle in for Night Watch.

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