Straight On Till Morning 1972 REVIEW

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Straight On Till Morning 1972, a wonderful, stylised snapshot of early 70s London, is a must-see thriller for all fans of Hammer, says RICHARD MARKWORTH

Straight On Till Morning 1972 REVIEW 1

Review of Straight On Till Morning 1972

TITLE: Straight On Till Morning
RELEASED: 9 July 1972
DIRECTOR: Peter Collinson
CAST: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam, Annie Ross, Tom Bell

Hammer Films are synonymous with classic, Gothic horror movies featuring such legendary monsters as Dracula and Frankenstein. However, in the 1960s and 70s the studio diversified their output by dipping their clawed toe into the murky waters of the psychological thriller. 

Although they had already proffered such fare as Paranoiac (1963) and The Nanny (1965), there is nothing else in the Hammer oeuvre in quite the same vein as Straight on Till Morning in which we are presented with a unique combination of kitchen sink drama and pyscho-killer horror.

Ensconced in her mother’s terraced home, plain Jane Liverpudlian Brenda Thompson (Rita Tushingham), escapes the reality of her drab existence by penning fairy tales in which she imagines herself a princess.

Falsely claiming to be pregnant she declares to her mother (Clare Kelly) she is leaving the North for London to find a suitable father for her child.

On her arrival, the capital initially appears to be the magical kingdom of Brenda’s fantasies, packed with trendy shops, and populated by hip-young things bedecked in their 1970s finery. However, Brenda’s first taste of the harsh nature of the city comes when she collides with a handsome young man, Peter (Shane Briant), causing her to drop her shopping bag. He barely acknowledges her presence let alone apologises.

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Taking residence in a grimy bedsit Brenda makes various unsuccessful attempts to engage with random men in the street in her search for a prospective babyfather.

However, after landing a job in a fashionable boutique owned by womaniser Jimmy Lindsay (Tom Bell), Brenda learns from co-worker Joey (James Bolam) that fellow shop assistant, the liberated Caroline (Katya Wyeth), is looking for a flatmate. Joey also claims Caroline is “man-mad” and into non-stop partying. 

Concluding Caroline’s social scene will be the ideal environment in which to meet a man, Brenda agrees to take occupation of her colleague’s spare room. 

Sure enough, on the very night she moves in, a party is in full swing at the flat. However, the timid and socially inept Brenda struggles to integrate with the other guests. To add to her misery, her plan to get closer to Joey fails dismally when he ends up in bed with the promiscuous Caroline.

Upset, Brenda heads into the night where she happens across a dog named Tinker. She realises he belongs to Peter and, after confirming his owner’s address is on his collar, abducts the dog. Brenda schemes to return Tinker the next day thereby effecting an introduction to her potential Prince Charming.

After bathing Tinker and adding a bow to his fur, Brenda delivers the dog to Peter at his well-heeled, although distinctly untidy, mews house claiming to have found him. She tells the young man her name is Rosalba, the name of the princess in her fairy stories. Peter makes it clear he saw her take Tinker, and she eventually confesses she did so as a ploy to meet him because she wants a baby.

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Peter’s response to her admission is, to put it mildly, surprising. Seemingly unperturbed by her questionable behaviour, he makes Brenda a proposition, asking her to move into his home to look after him and attend to his household chores. In return, he agrees to consider providing her with a child. However, this is on the proviso he be allowed to refer to her as “Wendy” from now on. 

Brenda agrees all too readily but, unbeknownst to her, Peter is a psychopath who has slain a string of lovers, older women whom he believed were only interested in his looks. His loathing of beauty, his own and that of others, triggers his homicidal impulses. 

Although the pair settle into a bizarre form of domesticity, Brenda’s fairy-tale dream is set to become the stuff of nightmares as the real world threatens to crash in.  

Straight on Till Morning is a cautionary tale, warning of the possible dubious character of attractive strangers and the dangers of a dissolute lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is also a rather slight one, with the outcome inevitable and therefore lacking any real tension.

Furthermore, it is difficult to empathise with any of the main characters; Peter is insane, Brenda is delusional to the point of incurring annoyance, and the likes of Caroline and Jimmy are motivated by their own selfish appetites.

However, for all its bleak nihilism, there is much to be applauded in this unusual entry to the Hammer catalogue.

It is stylishly filmed and director, Peter Collinson, creates a real sense of time and place with his exterior shots of 1970s London and persuasively presents the city as a glitzy but callous environment. 

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Peter’s murder scenes are genuinely disturbing. The director’s decision to refrain from the use of on-screen gore cleverly allows the audience to add any graphic detail with their own imagination. 

60s icon Rita Tushingham puts in an accomplished performance as Brenda. Although it is challenging to accept her as being physically unattractive, Tushingham nonetheless manages to convince thanks to her dowdy appearance and awkward mannerisms.

Shane Briant is ideally cast as the androgynous, Gauloises-smoking, maniac living a twisted Peter Pan fantasy life funded by money acquired from his victims. Although his clothes and coiffured blonde hairstyle, practically a character in itself, are very much of their time, his portrayal of a louche psychosexual serial killer, unsettling yet avoiding any swivel-eyed histrionics, stands up well today.

As a wonderful, stylised snapshot of early 70s London, and an intriguing attempt at melding two genres, Straight on Till Morning, is highly commendable and remains a “must see” for Hammer completists.

Watch Straight On Till Morning Trailer 1972

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