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MARLON BRANDO IN MICHAEL WINNER'S 'THE NIGHTCOMERS'

Title: THE NIGHTCOMERS Director: Michael Winner Year: 1971 Rating: ***

Marlon Brando's THE GODFATHER comeback was more of a legacy accreditation for an entire career, blending with the STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and ON THE WATERFRONT roles as if all the forgettable films in-between didn't exist; and here's another that (although better than most at that time) perhaps he could have avoided...

Strangely enough, the title NIGHTCOMERS fits the adaptation of Henry James's enigmatic supernatural short story TURN OF THE SCREW ala 1961's THE INNOCENTS as two ghosts (our lovers here, when alive) arrive/come at night, appearing before the same children along with their caretaker: the latter arriving at the tail-end, connected to the famous predecessor... but was the Henry James tale relevant enough for an entire prequel/backstory? 

Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS

Director Michael Winner, using his usual zoom lens and symbolic set-ups, may have been influenced by former collaborator Oliver Reed's art-films directed by time-period sex-exploitation Ken Russell — possibly a better fit here since NIGHTCOMERS plays more comfortably with sadistic lust than the kind of psychedelic horror popular in the early seventies, heavy on off-putting violence and short on plot: which has author James's two spoiled, death-obsessed (yet not very inspired) literary children residing in a rural gothic English manor of Bly...

Their parents are dead, and their aloof uncle turns them over to Stephanie Beacham, a religious caretaker, deliberately contrasting to Brando's Quint as an Atheist groundskeeper... donning the same unkempt hair and Irish accent used in THE MISSOURI BREAKS, another film in which he seems part of a totally different picture...

Stephanie Beacham in THE NIGHTCOMERS

And here his frolicking, childish behavior is both infectious to the adoring kids and the movie's cadence: But with more sympathy and perspective angled upon Beacham's naiveté, Brando's rebellious, sexually-charged, reckless behavior would have provided more shock value instead of seeming mundane and commonplace...

Basically, watching THE NIGHTCOMERS is like electricity being electrocuted. The best thing is Jerry Fielding's brooding, haunting music, similar to his same years' cerebral STRAW DOGS score. And yet, like the Brando thriller NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY — another maligned pre-GODFATHER outing — there's a comfortable surrealistic quality as if this particular NIGHT was intended for a very selective cult-movie audience all along.

Marlon Brando foreshadows his David Letterman impression in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Marlon Brando (perhaps imitating Richard Harris) in THE NIGHTCOMERS with Christopher Ellis
Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS with Christopher Ellis
Christopher Ellis and Stephanie Beacham in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Stephanie Beacham in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Christopher Ellis and Verna Harvey in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Verna Harvey in THE NIGHTCOMERS
England in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Verna Harvey in THE NIGHTCOMERS with Christopher Ellis
Anna Palk in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Stephanie Beacham in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Opening credits in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Verna Harvey in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Stephanie Beacham and Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Stephanie Beacham and Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Stephanie Beacham and Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS

Verna Harvey in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS
Marlon Brando in THE NIGHTCOMERS

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