Night of the Eagle
burn witch burn | sidney hayers | charles beaumont | richard matheson | peter wyngarde | janet blair | margaret johnston | witch | witchcraft | united kingdom | college | animal attack | judith stott | based on | novel | fritz leiber jr | night of the eagle | witches
Film: Night of the Eagle
Director: Sidney Hayers
Writer: Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson
Starring: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair and Margaret Johnston
This film is one that I didn’t know about until working my way through the Horror Show Guide, an encyclopedia of horror films. Outside of reading the blurb there, I didn’t know much about this one. I’ve now given it a second viewing as part of my Trek through the Twos. The synopsis is a woman who may be a witch defends her husband from forces trying to harm him.
We begin with narration about there being witchcraft around us and that he does an incantation to ensure that the spells that are used in this film do not affect us, the viewer.
It then shift to a classroom. The professor is Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde). He is teaching sociology and explaining that witchcraft, psychics and things to this effect are not real. What gives them their power is the belief in them being real and it creates a placebo effect. The bell goes off and he asks a student, Margaret Abbott (Judith Stott), to collect everyone’s tests. Her boyfriend is Fred Jennings (Bill Mitchell). He is also in the class and he blows off writing a paper for the test they just took. Norman threatens to have him removed from the class and he scoffs it off.
Outside, Norman walks with a co-worker, Harvey Sawtelle (Anthony Nicholls). He asks if they’re going to play bridge tonight now that Norman’s wife has returned from their cottage by the water. He confirms this plan. Harvey gets in the car with his wife, Evelyn (Kathleen Byron), along with a co-worker by the name of Flora Carr (Margaret Johnston). Harvey seems to like and believes he will get the promotion that is on the table. The two women don’t seem to care for him too much. Him and his wife are seen as outsiders.
Norman arrives home and we notice there is a bell hung above their front door. It seems to be in secret as Norman doesn’t acknowledge it. He comes in and is greeted by his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair). They get prepped for the game night. Which features three other couples. There is Flora and her husband, Lindsay (Colin Gordon). There also is Harvey and Evelyn as well as Harold Gunnison (Reginald Beckwith) with his wife of Hilda (Jessica Dunning).
During the night there are talks that Norman will become the new head of the sociology chair. There are also jokes that he is doing it with hypnosis or witchcraft. This makes Tansy and along with the other women perk up.
At the end of the night, Tansy is looking for something intently. Norman doesn’t seem to notice and goes up to go to bed. He is perplexed when the drawer to his pajamas won’t open. He takes out the drawer above it to find Tansy keeping a dried-up spider. She claims it is just a souvenir.
The next day though, he discovers a bunch of different things around the house used in witchcraft. She reveals that she is a witch and has been protecting him and helping to have good things happen to him. He forces her to destroy all of it. She warns him that she can’t be held responsible what happens to him now. They then get a phone call from a woman making lewd, for the time, remarks to Norman.
The next day Norman is accused of attacking a student and Tansy is acting funny. This leads to a series of events that makes Norman question what is real and what’s not.
That is where I’ll leave my recap to flesh out the synopsis and give more information about our characters. This movie is an interesting one. I love the fact that we get the narration in the beginning to set the stage. It is a bit of a gimmick, but I can appreciate what they’re doing there. We jump to Norman’s class. I like that shift. It is an interesting idea that is explored in movies like this with curses, witchcraft or the like. The only way for it to effect you is to believe. In the beginning, Norman doesn’t.
Going along with this idea, we are following college professors. They are people who have education. From that opening sequence in the classroom, we start getting the idea that all the women believe in witchcraft, including Norman’s wife of Tansy. It is all the men who are in the dark and are skeptical. Norman is upset that his wife believes it in. He says to her that she is intelligent and knows it can’t be real. This is effective here to swaying people from what we see in the movie. Before moving away from this, I love the idea that men are wrong and the women all holding the secret of the truth.
The question then comes whether what we are seeing here is happening or not. Are there supernatural things are happening or is this psychosis by believing? Norman in the beginning doesn’t believe. The more evidence he sees, the more it sways him over to the other side. I love this idea though. If he sticks to his guns, does any of this affect him then? According to his logic, it shouldn’t. It makes for an interesting exploration of these ideas for sure. I’m in the camp that there isn’t anything supernatural happening. It is the suggestion and the belief in it that is driving all the events.
I’m not sure this movie would work as well though without good acting. I think that Wyngarde is good here. He is so sure of his beliefs, but as things happen, we see him falling apart. There is stubble on his face, giving him a haggard look. His love for his wife also makes him waver to protect her. Blair is good as his counterpart who does believe. They play well off each other as they descend into their psychosis. I liked Johnston along with Byron as the wives. We see that they have nefarious plans in mind and don’t like these outsiders getting in the way. It is fun to see them coupled with their husbands, Nicholls and Gordon, who have no idea what their wives are doing. Along with them, I’ll give credit to Stott and Mitchell. They’re pawns in this, but they drive some parts of the story for Norman and Tansy.
Then the last things to go into would be the effects, cinematography and soundtrack. For the former, we don’t get a lot of them. What is done is practical. We do get this great sequence where Norman is fleeing in terror and it seems like this stone eagle is coming to life. They use a real bird and I love the cinematography there to make it seem larger than what it is. That is what helps this movie for sure is how it is shot. That is well done in showing the madness our characters are experiencing. I’d also give credit to the soundtrack. That helps build the atmosphere for sure as well as build tension.
In conclusion here, this movie is one that I liked the first time and glad that I’ve now revisited. We are getting an interesting story here. From the beginning, it is pushing the idea that witchcraft is real, almost to the point where it is a gimmick with the opening narration and a message in the end. It then becomes a film of Norman trying to prove it is all in Tansy’s head. He isn’t so sure as things go on though. I thought the acting was solid. We get some interesting things with the cinematography that help with the effects. The soundtrack is used with building atmosphere and tension. Having now seen this a second time, I think this is a good movie. I’m not sure I’d go higher than this, but I like what it is doing for sure.
My Rating: 8 out of 10