The news was devastating. In fact, I’m not sure that I have fully recovered. But it appears that it is true: the makers of Agatha Christie’s Marple are going to continue to ruin not just the Marple novels, but also the wonderful novels that do not feature any of Christie’s regular detectives. Yes, they have done this before, somehow transplanting poor Miss Marple into stories where she really doesn’t belong and for no apparent reason and without good results. But this year they are aiming for one of the greatest travesties ever to occur in a Christie adaptation – they are tackling one of Dame Agatha’s most unique and atmospheric novels and, more importantly, my own favourite: Endless Night.
If you have never heard of Endless Night, then you are probably not alone. It’s a strange entry in the Christie cannon, but also one of the author’s best works and received great reviews (some of the best of Christie’s career) when it was published in 1967. But, what is more worrying than the makers of Marple decimating a great book is the fact that the new adaptation is likely to make the really great film adaptation even more obscure than it already is.
It is almost impossible to talk about the plot of the film or book without giving away spoilers – and certainly don’t read the Wikipedia entries on either, as they give away the ending! However, the basic outline is that a young man from a lower class background falls in love with one of the richest women in the world, they get married and build their dream home on a plot of land known as Gypsy’s Acre, but it is then that mysterious events start to take place which may or may not be connected with ancient curses.
It didn’t take long after the publication of the novel for the film to appear, and the resulting movie was one of the best Christie adaptations since the Rene Clair version of And Then There Were None back in 1945. Unlike the entertaining-but-nothing-like-the-book Margaret Rutherford outings as Miss Marple, and Tony Randall’s disastrous attempt at Poirot which has to be seen to be believed, the film of Endless Night is a serious movie, and as much a dark character study as it is a thriller. Sidney Gilliat directed, and the film was the last of his fourteen movies as director, and there is nothing quite like it in the rest of his filmography. Some would argue that the classic Green for Danger comes close, but even that is a straightforward whodunnit and has more than a liberal dose of comedy, which is not present here.
Gilliat had a strong cast at his disposal, including the then-lucrative pairing of Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills, Britt Eckland and a wonderful late-in-the-game performance from George Sanders, who committed suicide a few months before the release of the film. The screenplay was written by Gilliat himself, but it is the look and sound of the film which helps to make this special. It looks and sounds very much of its time, but this only adds to the haunting nature of the film. And haunting is the right word for, for the most part, this is a horror movie. The gaudy colours and larger-than-life performances of Hammer films of the period are not here, but there is something here that makes the film somehow a distant relative to The Wicker Man in that a warped corruption of a seemingly idyllic location and country life is at the heart of the film. One doesn’t know until the end of the film whether the seemingly supernatural elements and curses are red herrings or not (and I don’t intend to give the game away) but, like The Wicker Man, there is an eerie, dreamlike quality to the whole enterprise, aided and abetted by the strange Bernard Herrmann soundtrack utilising the Moog synthesiser (his only soundtrack not to be released on CD or LP, so I understand).
I first saw the film when I was about twelve, a time when it appeared on our TV screens with regularity. Recently, the film almost seems to have vanished, neither showing on TV nor available on DVD. Despite this, I urge you – no, implore you – to go out and find the film before the whole story is butchered at the hands of the makers of Marple and you’ll never be able to see this classy but forgotten adaptation in the same way ever again.