The Night Digger (1971, aka The Road Builder)

The Night Digger (1971, aka The Road Builder)Synopsis:

In a secluded country mansion, a lonely spinster (Patricia Neal, Hud) and her blind mother (Pamela Brown, Becket) lead an uneventful life. The arrival of a young drifter (Nicholas Clay, Excalibur), who harbors a dark secret, disrupts the women’s carefully constructed routines.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Moody, cryptic British thriller that’s big on atmosphere, but unfortunately lacks cohesiveness. Honestly, there isn’t much of a plot. That’s not really the problem though. The Night Digger (aka The Road Builder) has some interesting ideas and a few delightful moments of creepiness, but scene after scene unveils so little that you’ll feel a bit frustrated. I was rooting for the film to deliver on many early promises, but sadly it left me wanting a bit more. I did like the bizarrely twisty ending.

All of the actors in the movie are very good. Neal is hands down the best thing about the movie. She’s just terrific. I very much like her old-fashioned star quality and I love her inimitable raspy voice. Her then husband author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), who adapted Joy Cowley’s novel, incorporates Neal’s well-publicized health issues into the script (in the 1960s she suffered a series of debilitating strokes), a nice touch that makes the role of the spinster all the more interesting.

Bernard Herrmann’s (Vertigo and Psycho) creepy music score recalls his work for Hitchcock. Alex Thomson’s (Labyrinth and Legend) atmospheric camerawork is really good too.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Although I had many issues with The Night Digger, I think it is worth taking a look. I do recommend it to fans of understated thrillers. If anything, Neal’s robust performance and Herrmann’s soaring score will keep you entertained. Color, 97 minutes, Rated R.

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8 responses to “The Night Digger (1971, aka The Road Builder)

  1. This film has always piqued my interest and at some point I’m going to have finally take the time to see it. It’s an interesting premise and I’m glad to read that it’s not a complete misfire.

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  2. Just finished watching The Road Builder,and was following along the disjointed scenes fairly well…but the ending has me puzzled.The young woman who lost her dog,she was coming from Maura&Billy’s house? Then,Maura goes back home to,hear Billy playing the harmonica. Did he have a romp in the hay,with the younger woman /neighbor?
    Then,seeing the hurt in Maura’s eyes he kills himself?

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    • This is my take on the ending. SPOILER — Maura suspects Billy had done something to the young woman and when she hears him play the harmonica her suspicions are confirmed (remember, he plays the harmonica every time he feels like killing). Later, Billy meets Maura on the road and he realizes that she knows (the look on her faces says it all). Unable to deal with Maura’s disappointment, Billy commits suicide.

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      • Yes! This would be my take on it,also. Thanks for affirmation,so like you said,he saw the hurt and disappointment in her eyes, and although he couldn’t control himself ,he did probably love her in his twisted way? The lost dog story was just that..a story the girl made up? At least he didn’t kill her and,leave Maura to find her body.

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  3. Or…I just had a thought. .Billy is returning from where?? And did he actually leave the house after playing the harmonica, and go,somewhere and kill?? Since he was dealing with the urge to kill?

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    • Yes, I think they had moved to the cottage thinking the idyllic setting would transform him. Maura, and Billy, suddenly realized that his urges to kill were too strong hence the ending.

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