Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is an architect. He is called to the home of Eliot Foley (Roland Culver) and Eliot’s mother (Mary Merrall) concerning a job restoring their old farm house. When Craig gets there the Foleys introduce him to their guests. Craig has a moment of déjà vu believing he has been to the house before and has met these people based on a recurring dream. The Foleys’ guests are race car driver Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird), psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk), Joan Cortland (Googie Withers) and Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes). Later he remembers that the dream turns into a nightmare of horror but is unsure why. To put Craig at ease the guests relate their own supernatural stories.
“The Hearse Driver” Hugh Grainger remembers that after a bad racing accident he was recovering in the hospital. At one point he went to the window and saw a horse drawn hearse below. The driver (Miles Malleson) looked up and said “Just room for one inside, sir”. Later when he was released from the hospital he was waiting for the bus. When the bus pulled up the driver was the same man that had been driving the hearse. He looked at Hugh and said “Just room for one inside, sir”. Grainger refused to get on the bus.
“The Christmas Party” Sally says that she once attended a Christmas party in a mansion where a murder once happened. During a game of hide and seek she finds a young boy named Francis Kent in a nursery crying. She comforts him and puts him to bed. Later she finds that Francis Kent was murdered by his sister Constance years ago.
“The Haunted Mirror” Joan’s story involves a mirror she bought for her then fiancé, Peter Cortland (Ralph Michael), as a birthday gift. Peter began seeing a room reflected in the mirror that didn’t exist. He described the room to Joan. Peter became obsessed with the image. Later Joan saw a bed that looked like the one Peter described. The owner of the antique store said that the previous owner of the mirror and bed was a man who killed his wife because he believed she was unfaithful.
“The Golfer’s Story” Foley relates a story about two golfers, George Parratt (Basil Radford) and Larry Potter (Naunton Wayne) who fell in love with the same woman, Mary Lee (Peggy Bryan). To solve their dilemma they play a round of golf. The winner gets Mary. Parratt cheats. Potter kills himself. Potter than comes back to haunt Parratt. Potter says that unless he gives up Mary he will haunt him forever.
“The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” Dr. Van Straaten talks about a patient, Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) who was a ventriloquist. Frere’s mental state deteriorates to the point where he really believes his dummy Hugo is real and wants to leave him for another ventriloquist, Sylvester Kee (Hartley Power). Frere decides that in order to keep Hugo he must kill Kee.
“Dead of Night” was released in 1945. The individual stories were directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. It is a British horror portmanteau consisting of five stories and a wraparound story. Made by Ealing Studios “Dead of Night” is credited as perfecting the British anthology and bringing the British horror story definition. It was also considered an influence with Amicus and their portmanteau films. Many horror film tropes were first adapted from the film. It is also Ealing Studios only horror film.
The most well known story of the film is “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”. Mostly because of Michel Redgrave’s creepy performance, as well as the all around creepiness of the doll. It is a layer story that combines insanity and paranormal elements to the point where you are not totally sure if Frere really is insane or if Hugo really is real. The other stories are not as haunting but do have their own eeriness. All except for the “The Golfer’s Story” which brings in some comic relief in the middle of the film. The two golfers, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne were well known and had been paired before as sports obsessed fans in films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” 1938.
The Christmas Story is based on the true story of Constance Kent who was arrested and convicted of killing her younger half-brother Francis in 1860. Constance spent twenty years in jail. When she was released she moved to Australia where she lived until the age of 100. She died one year before the film was done.
Mervyn Johns, who plays Walter Craig, also play Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sim 1951.