Having been kings of the horror movie industry during the 50's and 60's, when it came to the 1970's Hammer were starting to feel the pinch. American movies were beginning to take the crown from the UK, and foreign influences like Italian and Spanish movies offered horror that the UK simply could not match. Hammer retaliated with an unusual romantic thriller in 1972, a movie that looks incredibly dated now but in terms of aura this was cutting edge stuff that seems harsh even by today's standards.
Brenda (Rita Tushingham) lives in Liverpool, in a time where options and employment were hard; things are made harder for Brenda who simply wants a baby. One day she tells her mother the first lie of her life, she says she is pregnant; even though she is not. And with that leaves Liverpool behind and heads for London.
Not the smartest cookie in the jar Brenda tries accosting random men in the street, literally propositioning them in her quest to be a mother. But first things first Brenda needs a roof over her head and a job, so approaches fashion store owner Jimmy Lindsey (the late Tom Bell) for a job. Through this chain of events she meets Joey (James Bolam) who she highlights as her potential future love interest and father to her baby. Sadly Joey only has eyes for Caroline (Katya Wyeth) and Brenda is left out in the cold. But then she sees him, Peter (Shane Briant) an attractive, rich and charismatic man and engages in an elaborate series of events to secure her man. But Peter might not be all that he seems.
I heard about Straight On Till Morning some years ago, but it took me to this very day to see this unusual Hammer offering. I'm happy to report that the wait unusually proved to be fruitful. This is a movie that has more atmosphere than any other British movie I think I have ever experienced. There is none of this random long drawn out soulful moments that often British movies of the time had, neither does it go out of its way trying to be something that clearly it is not. Truth of the matter being I had no expectations about what Straight On Till Morning was all about, other than it was not a horror movie, a real rarity from Hammer.
Rita Tushingham is annoyingly odd, not in a bad way; she is playing the role that she clearly was meant to. But it's a creepy little performance, Tushingham displaying all the qualities that in real life would categorise her as both weird and desperate. It's a soulful heart bearing performance with Tushingham using her weaknesses to enhance her performance.
But its creepy Shane Briant as Peter who provides the real impact, not necessarily a good actor; his wooden attributes suit the movie well. It would be hard to find an actor who could look so charming but completely empty headed as Briant. There is a sort of general arrogance about the actor, which that complements the downtrodden performance ofTushingham. But best of all this is one creepy guy, you really would not want to spend a minute of your time with this guy, let alone pin him down and try to set up a family with him. As the story progresses I'd go as far as to say through a combination of his general physical traits, scripting, and general woodiness that he delivers one of the most menacing performances in British cinema.
Now take into account that this movie is well on its way to being 40 years old, and I confess there are moments that made me cringe. Although you see nothing there are some incredibly unpleasant scenes with Peter and his dog Tinker that just defy belief, let alone being actually allowed. The scene that I'm referring to is used as a suggestion early on in the movie, and later is aggressively pummelled into the viewers heads though sound, and having first had to turn away earlier in the movie I now found myself reducing the volume on my remote.
Straight On Till Morning is a psychological abuse of your senses, the way everything is planned out and the movies momentum is enough to have you on edge from the offset, this is before Brenda leaves Liverpool. Then there are the frequent flashbacks in Peter's mind where he thinks about a series of older partners from across the boundaries of time, some attractive some a mess, one thing they all have in common from the start is that you are fully aware that something unpleasant happened to each and every one. Peter is obviously living in a sort of Peter Pan style fantasy world, very much a boy in a man's body, wanting what he wants when he wants it; although never confirmed anywhere in either the movie or in on-line resources I think this comparison is solidified by his choice to rename Brenda as Wendy.
I guess to some extend you could call this movie a morality tale as much as anything else, there are lots of occasions when you have to think about the old phrase "Be careful what you wish for..." and this is something that echoes through the entire movie.
I love the look of this movie, taking what are now key areas of the city of London and making them seem as local as a quaint country town or village. For those who missed the 1970's and want to experience the feel of the time, this movie is an excellent reference point. From the looks, the fashion, to the sound and the feel of the time this is a magnificent look that had me longing for the 70's again. Interestingly looking in the house of Peter, you're treated to something that is obviously dated but at the same time seems very now.
The nice thing about the movies ending is that it leaves you in charge of the final outcome, answering no specific questions.