Peter Cushing’s steals scenes in Night of the Big Heat (1967) and deserves respect, says HOWARD JACKSON
Peter Cushing has three scenes in Night Of The Big Heat. Two occur in a pub and one in a car. The film was made quickly. The alien that appears at the end of the film looks and wobbles like a crème brulee and has a light bulb inside.
Cushing may have filmed his contribution in a morning. For much of his career Peter Cushing had to convince thick Romanian villagers that they had a vampire on top of the nearby hill. In Night Of The Big Heat he is the villager who has to be baffled about the unseasonal heat and listen to the explanations of others.
Watching Cushing in his three scenes it is obvious why most of the time he had the main part and the other actors had to settle for being the villagers.
Although there is a steamy adulterous relationship between Patrick Allen and Jane Merrow the characterisation in Night Of The Big Heat is thin. Sarah Lawson, who was married to Allen in real life, plays the jealous wife of the treacherous husband. Lawson is a fine actress but none of what happens is memorable or convincing.
Compared to the main trio Cushing has minimal dialogue as Dr Vernon Stone. If anybody thinks that name is dodgy, the local garage mechanic is called Tinker Watson. Night Of The Big Heat could be described as Enid Blyton technique and confused overheated adults.
Despite his lack of lines Cushing dominates his scenes. Everybody in the film is supposed to be hot and sweaty, and we know they are because we see the damp shirts that the men wear. For some reason the women in the film do not sweat. But if the other actors are reduced to cursing the extreme heat, Cushing refuses to remove his linen jacket. Instead he finds props to complement his performance. He mops his face with a handkerchief and he uses his newspaper to fan cool air on to his face. Cushing looks like a man who is irritated by the temperature. The other actors look no more than exasperated and annoyed.
In his second scene Cushing does more listening than talking. His job is to sit at a table, drink his beer and listen. But Cushing remembers the newspaper and he reads it as if there might be potential secrets. A newspaper, especially those that existed in 1967, can hide the face of the actor. Cushing sits not at the table but on it, and this allows him to look down and hold the newspaper in his lap. Some may dismiss this as scene stealing but the creativity has to be acknowledged.
We know that the director Terence Fisher gave little direction to his actors. The idea would have belonged to Peter Cushing, as would the notion of playing the doctor as a relaxed lounge lizard available for a medical opinion. Cushing provides a diagnosis of the troubled Jane Merrow but resists becoming the expert. Instead he lets that privilege belong to Christopher Lee as the obsessed scientist with limited social skills. For that gracious act Peter Cushing deserves praise and respect.