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 best remembered for the concluding story, which features Redgrave and concerns a ventriloquist's malevolent dummy.

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 byGeorges Auric
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Jack Parker
Edited byCharles Hasse
Distributed byEagle-Lion Films (UK) Universal Pictures[2] (US)
Release date
  • 9 September 1945 (1945-09-09) (United Kingdom)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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.

While primarily in the horror genre, there are shades of the comedy that would make the studio's name.


A car drives up a country road and stops. The man driving the car looks up to see a country cottage, and his expression becomes puzzled. He drives up to the cottage, where his host Elliot Foley (Roland Culver) greets him in the driveway. He is Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect whom Foley has invited to his country home in Kent to consult on some renovations. Upon admittance to the sitting room of the cottage, Craig 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 hearse driver who says "just room for one inside, sir", a ghostly encounter during a children's Christmas party, a haunted antique mirror, a light-hearted tale of two obsessed golfers, one of whom becomes haunted by the other's ghost and the story of an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believes his amoral dummy is truly alive.

After the stories have been told, Craig murders one of the guests, then somehow runs into characters from the house guests' tales. One of these attempts to strangle Craig on a cot against the wall of a prison cell.

Craig finally finds himself struggling against his bedclothes in a sunlit bedroom as a phone rings. His wife brings him the phone, it is a call from Elliot Foley, inviting him to his country home to consult on some renovations. Craig's wife suggests that spending a weekend in the country might help him get rid of his terrible nightmares.

Ultimately, Craig drives up a country road to Foley's cottage in Kent.


Framing sequenceEdit

(Directed by Basil Dearden)

The Hearse DriverEdit

(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 PartyEdit

(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 MirrorEdit

(Directed by Robert Hamer; story by John Baines)

The Golfer's StoryEdit

(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.[citation needed]

The Ventriloquist's DummyEdit

(Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, story by John Baines)


The film opened at the Gaumont Haymarket cinema in London on 9 September 1945.[3]


Box officeEdit

According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed well at the British box office in 1945.[4] The 'biggest winner' at the box office in 1945 Britain was The Seventh Veil, with "runners up" being (in release order), Madonna of the Seven Moons, Old Acquaintance, Frenchman's Creek, Mrs Parkington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet Me in St Louis, A Song to Remember, Since You Went Away, Here Come the Waves, Tonight and Every Night, Hollywood Canteen, They Were Sisters, The Princess and the Pirate, The Adventures of Susan, National Velvet, Mrs Skefflington, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Nob Hill, Perfect Strangers, Valley of Decision, Conflict and Duffy's Tavern. British "runners up" were They Were Sisters, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Perfect Strangers, Madonna of the Seven Moons, Waterloo Road, Blithe Spirit, The Way to the Stars, I'll Be Your Sweetheart, Dead of Night, Waltz Time and Henry V.[5]

Critical receptionEdit

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 97% based on 31 reviews, with a rating average of 8.07/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "With four accomplished directors contributing, Dead of Night is a classic horror anthology that remains highly influential."[6]

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 praised Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne for "providing excellent comic relief", and concluded that the 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.[7]


The circular plot of Dead of Night inspired Fred Hoyle's steady state model of the universe, developed in 1948.[8]

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.[9] Dead of Night placed at number 35 on their top 100 list.[10] Director Martin Scorsese placed Dead of Night on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[11] Writer/director Christopher Smith was inspired by the circular narrative in Dead of Night when making his 2009 film Triangle.[12]

A shot of Redgrave from the film is featured on the cover of Merrie Land, an album by The Good, the Bad & the Queen.[13]


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 alsoEdit



  1. ^ "Dead of Night (Original)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  2. ^ a b c K.F.B (1945). "Entertainment Films". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 12 no. 141. British Film Institute. p. 105.
  3. ^ a b "Basil Radford & Naunton Wayne". Art & Hue. 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  4. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p 208
  5. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  6. ^ "Dead of Night (1945)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Jane Gregory, Fred Hoyle's Universe, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-850791-7, pp.36–7
  9. ^ "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  10. ^ NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  11. ^ Scorsese, Martin (28 October 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 15 November 2009.
  12. ^ "Director Chris Smith on Triangle". Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  13. ^ "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 linksEdit