Night Train To Murder (1983)
Watching Night Train To Murder is an unsettling experience. Not because of the spooky "baddie", who looms out of the dark every so often to drop heavy items on the bonces of his unsuspecting victims; and not even because of the strange flatness the videotaping gives it, and the almost complete lack of a musical score.
No, the whole made-for-TV film is given a very unsettling air by featuring two of the country's favourite comedians, playing it (almost) straight and failing to get a great deal of laughs from the (sparsely scattered) funny lines they do deliver. Yes, Morecambe and Wise could be serious. Is that a good thing? I'm not entirely sure
Night Train To Murder marks the twosome's final appearance on-screen, and for that, at least, we should be grateful to it. Filmed by LWT in 1983, it was meant to be their tribute to the cinema thrillers of the 40s. However, the combination of what looks like an extremely meagre budget and the technical constraints of television light entertainment at the time effectively scupper this from the off. Surely any "tribute" to the cinema should be on film, with a period score? Instead, the whole thing has the look of Auf Wiedersehn, Pet and the sound of Neighbours. Not a good combination.
This could be overlooked if the script was up-to-scratch, but it's pretty lame, too. Genius writer Eddie Braben had long since jumped ship, and the whole thing is a mish-mash of thriller clichés, bad dialogue and jokes recycled from old Morecambe and Wise routines (not that there's anything wrong with that last one, whay-hay!).
The pair (particularly Eric, who was nearing the end of his tragically short life) also look very old, and the spark that once made them irresistible seems to have been dissipated somewhat. Unlike their BBC classics, the ITV shows don't get much of a repeating these days - and on this evidence, you can see why.
But at the end of the day, it's Morecambe and Wise! In a vaguely horror-related, sort-of film! We're only going to get one chance at mentioning them within the hallowed walls of britishhorrorfilms.co.uk, so we'd better make it a bit positive at least - and if you don't agree, sunshine, just assume that I've written all the right words - but not necessarily in the right order
The film starts with a bizarre funeral scene, Eric and Ernie standing at the graveside and explaining that the dead man (Big Jim) actually appears later on in the film, but died halfway through, necessitating his replacement by a much smaller actor. Oh, if only this weirdness had been kept up throughout.
Eric and Ernie are music hall artistes, appearing on the bill just before The Great Manzini ("the Dago with the daggers"). After they've finished their comic turn, Manzini staggers on-stage and the theatre audience are treated to what sounds like a drunken version of the knife routine from Circus Of Horrors (we can hear the audience's screams through the walls of our heroes' dressing room).
The pair are visited by Eric's niece Kathy (strangely overlooked Brit horror darling Lysette Anthony), and shortly after her entrance, Eric and Kathy narrowly avoid getting a sandbag dropped on them by a shadowy figure wearing a Halloween pumpkin mask (Ernie isn't so lucky, necessitating him wearing a neck brace for the rest of the picture - much hilarity ensues).
Kathy is invited to stay with Eric and Ernie (giving Kathy Ernie's room of course means that the two blokes have to sleep in the same bed - hooray!), and the trio are then visited by solicitor Mr Mackay (played by Fulton Mackay - is there an instance in any film or TV show where he didn't play a character called Mackay?). He explains that Kathy's Great Uncle Robert has died, and a recording of the deceased explains that she must travel to Scotland to hear the reading of the will, at midnight tomorrow
Yes, it's The Old Dark House again
Other members of the family (including Pamela Salem, a woman for whom the phrase "phwooarr" was invented) are also travelling up for the reading, and Kathy decides to take Eric and Ernie with her - much to Mackay's chagrin. The train up to Scotland is plagued by power cuts - leading to much malarkey during a card game between Eric, Ernie and Mackay, and the death of Kathy's Uncle Felix, who also happens to be on the train and was just about to warn her about something.
Once at the family pile, the murders (and attempted murders) continue, and we're introduced to the oddballs which make up Kathy's extended family. The nutter in the Halloween mask is also there, peeking through eyeholes in paintings, jumping out of secret passages waving a knife, and dropping large ornaments off roofs.
Considering that this production was apparently shown at tea-time, it's quite a violent affair, and there's even the occasional shock along the way - at one point the killer advances on the unaware Kathy, flick-knife in hand, which is not the kind of thing that makes it onto kid's telly these days. One character even gets stabbed as he peeks through one of the painting eye-holes, and blood is seen pouring back through the canvas! And of course there's a scene where all the dead bodies (so far) are neatly arranged around the dining room table
Eric, of course, gets all the best lines: "I'd like to have met him when he was alive," he comments after meeting the sepulchral butler; and a song they'd like to sing, but don't, is: "Charlie Chan, you're a different man, since you backed into, the electric fan."
He also gets to slap Ernie (of course), and the pair indulge in an eventually funny running gag which sees them unsuccessfully trying to whip tablecloths off tables without smashing the ornaments.
The whole thing is a bizarre little oddity, with a strange post-modern feel - there's the funeral scene at the beginning (with the pair of them acknowledging the camera), at another point Eric remarks that it's "like a Karloff movie", and Ernie realises that everything that is happening to them is what he's just read in his book (sadly not one what he wrote), Passport To Murder.
Very odd, but at the end of the day, it's Morecambe and Wise. I'll leave the last lines to Eric and Ernie, after all, it's quite possibly one of the last things they ever said together on-screen:
Ernie: "Where's the Scottish border?"
Eric: "In bed with the landlady."
Last updated: February 25, 2010
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