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Night Train to Murder
Nachtzug ins Grauen (1984)
  • Director:
    Joseph McGrath
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Jack Hobbs,Joseph McGrath
  • Cast:
    Eric Morecambe,Ernie Wise,Margaret Courtenay
  • Time:
    1h 10min
  • Year:
When Eric's niece Kathy becomes one of the heirs to a considerable fortune, her life (and those of the other heirs) is placed in jeopardy by the actions of a mysterious inter-loper.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Eric Morecambe Eric Morecambe - Eric Morecambe
Ernie Wise Ernie Wise - Ernie Wise
Margaret Courtenay Margaret Courtenay - Dame Flora
Kenneth Haigh Kenneth Haigh - Cousin Milton / Cousin Homer
Fulton Mackay Fulton Mackay - Mackay
Pamela Salem Pamela Salem - Cousin Zelda
Richard Vernon Richard Vernon - Uncle Felix
Lysette Anthony Lysette Anthony - Kathy Chalmers
Roger Brierley Roger Brierley - Chief Supt. Rivers
Edward Judd Edward Judd - Knife Thrower
Leonard Maguire Leonard Maguire - Great Uncle Robert (voice)
Ben Aris Ben Aris - Theatre Manager
Tony Boncza Tony Boncza - Joe
Frank Coda Frank Coda - Stage Manager
Big Mike Crane Big Mike Crane - Big Jim

Nachtzug ins Grauen (1984)

This is the final film Eric Morecambe made before he died in 1984. Like Ernie, he was reportedly unhappy with the finished result, as they had originally believed they were going to make an actual film, not a videotaped TV Movie.

The fictitious murder mystery novel read by Ernie is called "Passport to Death".

Night Train to Murder was the "deal" that took Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise from the BBC to Thames Television, "the channel on the other-side".

The final sequence of this film has Eric and Ernie walking off together which makes it their final screen image together.

A successful double-act on stage for many years, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise eventually made a successful transfer to television after some initial teething troubles in the Fifties, and in 1968 joined the BBC for a ten-year spell which would produce their funniest and most enduring work, making them Britain's best loved comic pair.

Their rise in prominence had witnessed three rather weak feature film entries in the 1960s and in 1978, at their peak, they were lured away from the BBC to Thames Television with a more lucrative contract and an agreement to take them beyond their established variety sketch show format with the possibility of producing a made-for-television film.

The transfer to Thames did not go smoothly, as it took a while for Thames to also secure the services of their primary writer, Eddie Braben, and Eric Morecambe suffered a serious heart attack barely a year after signing the Thames contract. The TV shows eventually continued, though never quite with the same success as the earlier BBC ones. Even the ITV network seemed to be losing faith with the pair, as from 1981 their annual Christmas show was moved away from the prestigious Christmas Day slot where it had been a fixture since the late Sixties.

Morecambe, in declining health and possibly motivated by a desire to demonstrate his versatility before the end came, appeared to be tiring of the format and even, possibly, of the double act itself and was pursuing other projects including solo ventures such as writing novels and appearing (without Wise) in some film subjects for director Charles Wallace.

'Night Train To Murder' seems to have been a half-hearted concession by Thames to allow Morecambe & Wise to make another film subject. The immediate problem is that it is not a film, it is shot on videotape which immediately gives it a cheaper, more amateurish look. The script, apparently written by Morecambe & Wise themselves along with producer-director Joe McGrath, places the duo in the rather clichéd plot of travelling on an overnight train to the reading of a will in a big, isolated old house where surviving family members (including Morecambe's niece, played by Lysette Anthony in one of her earliest TV roles)stand to inherit a considerable fortune, providing they don't first get killed off by a mysterious figure who seems intent on being the sole heir.

Although hardly an original idea, the premise at least lends itself better to the duo's style of comedy than their earlier feature films. They're backed up by a pretty strong cast, too, including Richard Vernon, Kenneth Haig, Edward Judd, Pamela Salem and, particularly, Fulton MacKay, an actor of sharp talent who never seemed to be fully appreciated when he was still alive.

The script, however, all seems rather sloppy. The gags are rather hit and miss, and even though it's not meant to be taken too seriously, the plot still defies logic (why does the villain have to adopt all the disguises? And if he's a master of quick-change disguise, why wear a rubber mask at times?) But even when the jokes work on paper, McGrath's direction rarely maximises their potential and too many of them fall flat.

Eric Morecambe sadly died in May 1984, the tributes hailing him as one of Britain's greatest comics. 'Night Train To Murder' had still not been broadcast and was held back until the following Christmas period, but it is perhaps significant that ITV kept it away from the big nights, only screening it on the rather insignificant night of 3rd January 1985 with relatively little fanfare.

In this context, it is poignant that the production opens (even before the opening titles) with Eric and Ernie attending a funeral, telling the audience that one of the cast members died during production (setting up a gag that comes later on).

In summation, this production hardly shows Morecambe and Wise at their best and leaves one wondering what might have been. Even so, it gives us one final chance to see them doing something different, and the scenes early on where Morecambe momentarily drops the comedy and plays an avuncular figure opposite Lysette Anthony give us a rare, possibly unique glimpse of a wholly different facet of the man. It's tempting to wonder how this might have been developed had Morecambe lived and had time to explore further creative avenues. The sad irony is that he didn't, and that it was the BBC rather than Thames who were soon making feature-length versions of some of their top comedies shot entirely on film, such as Only Fools And Horses and Last Of The Summer Wine, for the Christmas schedules.
In 1977, Morecambe and Wise were at the top of their game. Their Christmas Show of that year was watched by a staggering 28 million people. They had become a national institution.

So what made them quit the B.B.C.? Money? No, there was more to it than that. Thames Television had a feature film division - Euston Films - and Eric and Ernie, unhappy with their earlier big screen offerings, wanted a second bite of the celluloid cherry.

The result was 'Night Train To Murder' which, astonishingly, was made on videotape. Set in 1946, it stars our heroes as two down on their luck entertainers. Catherine, Eric's niece, turns up at the theatre where they are performing. Hiding in the wings is a masked assassin...

Sensing a chance to make some money, the lads appoint themselves her 'guardians'. Sinister lawyer Mackay goes with them to Scotland and here we get one of the film's few funny scenes as Eric and Ernie's Poker hands change each time their train enters a tunnel.

At Austin Hall, they encounter a cast of likely victims/suspects, amongst them battle axe Lady Flora, Velda the vamp, a Lurch-style butler and Kenneth Haigh in a variety of roles. Before you can say 'Cluedo', bodies fall out of closets, windows fly open, lightning flashes across the sky, and rats scurry in the basement.

On paper this all must have looked good. Alas, instead of being another 'The Cat And The Canary', it has more in common with Gene Wilder's 1986 turkey 'Haunted Honeymoon'. Eric and Ernie ( who co-wrote the script with director Joe McGrath ) made a mistake in trying a parody a genre exhausted through over parody. Everyone from The Two Ronnies to Frankie Howerd and Michael Palin has had a go at this subject matter at one time or another. With mostly greater success. Besides, Eric and Ernie were getting a bit long in the tooth by 1983; Eric in particular looks tired, which isn't surprising as he had recently undergone a heart operation.

But what really sinks the film is Joe McGrath's inept direction. His misjudges the mood of every scene; the scary bits don't scare, the funny bits...well, work it out for yourself. Despite the odd amusing moment, this misfires on all levels. Eric thought so too; it wasn't screened until well after his death. It was only sympathy for the loss of a great comedian that stopped this from being torn to pieces by the critics and public.
This was the last film of the wildly popular in Britain comic duo of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Personally I'm not very familiar with them (having seen only one of their movies - "The Intelligence Men" - and none of their TV shows), so I was drawn to this film mainly because it is sold as a murder mystery spoof. The first 30 minutes or so are rather poor, and probably only the most dedicated Morecambe & Wise fans will get more than a couple of laughs out of them (when they adjust to the cheap shot-on-video look). But the film improves when the action moves to the old-dark-house-full-of-secret-passages Austin Hall for the reading of a will, where we also meet some good supporting characters like the sexy (and horny!) Pamela Salem and the butler with the echoing voice! The ending is a successful homage to / parody of those incredibly far-fetched and thus surprising climaxes often employed by mystery writers of the Agatha Christie school. First half gets a *1/2 out of 4, the second gets **1/2, so ** overall.
As Morecambe and Wise films go as a comedy this isn't there best but still a good film all the same, as a thriller it's a tad lacking and I believe the comedy suffers to try and give it a thrillers edge. The acting isn't totally up-to scratch, by all the cast, the few gags that are in it are liberally spread, and there but if you blink you will miss them. You can tell parts were dubbed, and only true Morecambe and Wise fans will appreciate this film. Seeing that I am not heavily in to thrillers and haven't read any books of which this "send-up of some of the great thriller writers, including Edgar Wallace, Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie" is based on, so I may have missed some of the gags. Even though it's not the best of the films they made together but worth a watch!
There are those who say the comedy of Morecambe & Wise did not translate well to the big screen. People who know about this sort of thing tend to disagree. The 1983 romp "Night Train To Murder" was actually made for TV; it stars the guys as themselves, and is set in the aftermath of the Second World World. Eric's niece turns up out of the blue followed by a dodgy solicitor who tells her she is one of the heirs to a £10 million estate. That was when £10 million was worth £10 million! So off they all go to Scotland where someone doesn't want her or any of the other heirs to get their hands on the money.

Forget about the silly plot, the gags come fast and furious, and not only from Eric. You may not understand the in-jokes, like the lawyer Mackay played by Fulton Mackay, but quite a few of Eric's jokes are near the knuckle.

Does it have a happy ending? Sadly, Eric died the following year too young at just 58; Mackay three years later at 64. Ernie Wise lived to a reasonable age of 73, but their legacy will live forever.
Frankly, by the extremely humble standards of Thames TV, I don't think this TV movie is half as bad as everyone else does – particularly Morecambe and Wise, both of whom were somehow under the impression that they were making a theatrical feature. Frankly, you might well ask that with a money-wise, save-the-lights director like Joe McGrath on board, how could you possibly imagine you were making a theatrical feature? True, by the extremely bumble standards of TV, the movie has been lavishly produced and maybe this largess contributed to Morecambe and Wise's misunderstanding. It's also true that the screenplay could have been a whole lot wittier and punchier, but by the exceptionally low standards of TV, it's actually quite acceptable. And the movie does boast some stylish credit titles and some agreeable songs. And as for the script, I'm always a sucker for a Cat and the Canary spoof, and this one has some lively moments despite very obvious, hasty shooting. All told, it's a rather good effort by the exceptionally abysmal standards of British TV.