A Universal Picture that may drive you to dream of sex…of murder…of secret desires you’re afraid to admit when awake!
you have been warned!
Irene Trent is married to Howard, the creepiest looking man I’ve ever seen. Howard is blind, very rich, an inventor by night – and jealous and controlling to the brink of madness. Not helping matters is the fact that Irene has recurring sex dreams about a young, handsome, blue-eyed man during which she gives a play-by-play as her husband lurks by listening to every word, which further fuels his obsession making Irene’s every waking moment a living hell.
Since he barely lets Irene out of his sight – well, his grip really since he’s blind – Howard suspects the object of her lust is the only man who visits the house regularly, their handsome, blue-eyed attorney, Barry Morland who bares a striking resemblance to Robert Taylor. In any case, Howard all but accuses Barry of having a lustful relationship with his wife, playing back the woman’s sex dreams, which he tape recorded along with all other conversations in the house, hoping to catch Irene plotting her illicit liaisons. Needless to say, Barry Morland denies knowing anything of Irene’s fantasies or her flesh, which Howard’s accusations imply he has vast knowledge of.
Maddening jealousy taking over his cool, albeit frightening exterior, Howard confronts Irene who’s also had enough…
“Yes! Yes, I do have a lover. He comes to me every night. He holds me in his arms. He’s young, handsome and tender. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted, everything you’re not…my lover’s only a dream but he’s still more of a man than you!”
OH SNAP! And Howard does! Snap I mean as he suddenly strikes out at Irene with his cane. Luckily, she’s able to escape his grip and runs out of the house, out of the madness to stay at a hotel for the night. As Howard calls after her, there’s a gunshot-like noise that comes from the laboratory where Howard works on his inventions – although I couldn’t say what he invents, but wish he’d invented some dark shades for himself!
Howard goes to his lab to investigate the noise and as he steps into the room – A BLAST! An explosion takes his life.
We next see Mrs. Trent as she looks into the hole that used to be her husband’s lab contemplating her life – I assume with more than a little relief that the man is more than six feet under. The explosion in the lab was so violent that not a trace of Howard Trent is left for the police investigators to find.
Irene never gets much of a chance to enjoy her new-found freedom, however, because she immediately begins having extremely vivid nightmares in which Howard returns from the dead to take revenge on her. Or so it seems. Why she would decide to stay in that old mansion is beyond me so I’m not feeling too sorry for her when she is semi-awakend (maybe, perhaps) by noises that eventually lead to the now gutted laboratory. Noises she follows beyond creaky doors that close by themselves and the faint sounds of her late husband’s cane. Um…I’m outta here! This goes on until Irene (and I) can take it no longer. Desperately in need of sleep she decides to move out of the mansion and into her old apartment, located in back of the beauty shop she owns.
Irene seems relieved to be out of the old house and the move seems to have had some effect on her. Although she continues to have dreams about Howard’s vengeful visits, she now also begins to dream about her imaginary lover again, which seems a nice break. For a short while.
Then on one particular night her dream seems more real than ever when her lover comes for her, takes her to his apartment for a drink, and then to a small chapel where their wedding ceremony is to take place with all sorts of really creepy mannequins in attendance. All of a sudden, as the young stud slips the ring onto Irene’s finger, the entire ceremony starts again with the dead and scarred Howard as the groom. Bizarre! A ceremony only William Castle could have conceived.
When Irene awakens the next day, she is as confused as I am, unable to tell reality from dreams and is having a hell of a time of it. Trying to make heads or tale of what’s going on, Irene has no recourse but to turn to her attorney, Barry for help. Barry tries to help the woman as she tracks back through the route taken by that mysterious and handsome man, which led to the chapel. It turns out Irene has pretty vivid recollection of the experience, which makes the entire dream ordeal seem real. For sure this time. Or at least there are “clues” that these nightly forays were real, but ever-helpful Barry is skeptical, preferring to tell Irene they’re the results of her nightmares. The poor woman can’t catch a break!
And damned Barry almost succeeds in convincing Irene she was imagining the nocturnal adventures all along when the entire, sinister scheme unravels. That’s right! Barry Morland was behind the whole thing from the get-go because he wanted Howard Trent’s fortune for himself.
The resolution to the story in The Night Walker shows the happenings were of a sinister nature, just good old-fashioned avarice, and not the workings of a withered psychosis – other than mine, that is. The lack of psychosexual perversity, which hype and the film’s prologue promise, makes for somewhat of a disappointment. The movie loses a bit of Castle steam once we (and Irene) know for sure what’s behind the dreams she is having because the build-up to that pivotal point is so laced with mystery and/or confusion. But, I think Castle winds the movie down to a satisfying, if not fantastic ending making this a better movie than I had anticipated.
Although The Night Walker doesn’t compare – in the cheap frights department – with Castle’s more successful and popular, The House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959) or 13 Ghosts (1960) – the only three other William Castle films I’ve seen – there’s still enough of the Castle recipe to put a chill or two in this easily frightened dame. There are the fantastic cheese factor thrills, some ills of the psychological kind, great horror footage in shadows all enhanced by a terrific score by Vic Mizzy, whose most famous composition may be the theme to the 1960s television comedy, The Addams Family. Used in The Night Walker, Mizzy’s music is intrusive and loud and shrill and used precisely when I should jump. And I did! I’m the type who covers her ears at horror movies not my eyes because I’m very susceptive to movie music. So I can attest to this – The Night Walker‘s music is first-rate!
Also worthy of note is The Night Walker cast. Barbara Stanwyck portrays an effective victim of nightmares by the sheer fact that she is so strong and dignified a presence. I must admit that without the power of a Stanwyck I’m not sure I would have bought the role of Irene at all, which would have rendered the entire film unbelievable. The Night Walker was Barbara Stanwyck’s final film role in a career that began in 1927. She worked exclusively in television after this film.
Robert Taylor is good as the lawyer for as long as that’s the role he’s playing in the film. I have a bit of trouble buying into him as the character he turns out to be in the end, but I’m not sure why. The Night Walker features Stanwyck and Taylor in this their last collaboration and the first film they starred in together in 27 years. The two were married from 1939 to 1951 and made two films together before their marriage.
Other cast members include Hayden Rorke, who plays Howard Trent the pathologically possessive millionaire. Rorke is best known for his role as Dr. Bellows in the classic television comedy, I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970. Judi Meredith plays Joyce Holliday, an employee in Irene’s salon who plays a role in the sinister plot in the movie and the very handsome Lloyd Bochner as “The Dream,” the “ideal” younger man Irene fantasizes about.
It’s worth noting that while watching The Night Walker I kept thinking it’s a film best suited for teenagers at drive-ins. Or eternally young classic film fans, of course. It has the “feel” of an episode of The Outer Limits or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which makes sense given screenwriter, Robert Bloch, who wrote Psycho, also penned several episodes of Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as well as many more episodes of other suspense shows.
To market his 1964 psychological suspense thriller, William Castle employed only a relative few of his usual gimmicks because he had the promise of sex dreams, the writing talents of author, Bloch and the on-screen reunion of mega-watt stars, Stanwyck and Taylor to work with. But there were warnings…
Despite Castle’s efforts, however, The Night Walker received mixed reviews upon its release and was not a financial success. The film marked the end of William Castle’s most influential period in pictures although he’d continue to direct several more pictures for Universal and later for Paramount. If you haven’t seen The Night Walker I recommend it for the reasons I listed above. It’s a hoot.
This is my entry to The William Castle Blogathon hosted by The Last Drive In and Goregirl’s Dungeon. Please go to either of the host sites to read all about William Castle and his films, the films that “Scared the pants off America.”
Behind the scenes: