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.