The notion of Peter Collinson choosing the play-like elements of "Straight On Till Morning" may seem a bit odd, particularly after the ebullient and fast-paced "The Italian Job," but the director's first solo film had been a screen adaptation of Scott Forbes' play "The Penthouse," which pitted several desperate characters against each other in a restrictive environment. Violence, sex, strong language, and raw emotions characterize his best work, while his weaker films - "And Then There Were None" being a good example - subjugated the script and actors to sometimes arty, eccentric compositions.
The violence that Collinson occasionally exploited in his work is heavily contrasted by the often elegiac qualities of his final film, "The Earthling," in which a dying man's plan to trek to a mountain to die is foiled by an orphaned boy he meets along the way. Soon after completing the film, Collinson died of cancer at the ridiculously young age of 44, and his Hammer films - including "Fright" - are the first of his works to appear on Region 1 DVDs.
"Straight On Till Morning" permeates with a more surreal blend of gentility, and disturbing yet implied violence, where androgynous and maybe-serial killer Shane Briant is genuinely attracted to the inner beauty of plain Jane Rita Tushingham; and both engage in a relationship percolating with Peter Pan references, and a carefree existence in a ephemeral Never Neverland.
Playwright John Peacock had written "Straight On Till Morning" as a performance vehicle for Tushingham, and the climate at Hammer was just right for the project: Michael Carreras had recently taken over the company's managing director position from his father, and sought artistically unique projects over the more financially rewarding vampire and monster fodder that typified his father's reign.
Two aspects are addressed in the DVD's commentary track: the film's basic production history, and the film in the midst of England's dying film industry at the time. John Southcott provides some sobering facts about Hammer's production shifts and inevitable closure in 1983, as funding, among other factors, reduced England's native productions to a level where actors, such as the sultry Katya Wyeth, either went into television, moved to the U.S., or chose entirely different careers to survive.
Co-star Shane Briant had debuted in Hammer's "Demons of the Mind," and "Straight On Till Morning" was his first leading role in what the studio had hoped would establish a new and more youthful Christopher Lee for the next cinemagoing generation.
Given few details of Peter Collinson exists in print, the commentary track also offers sporadic personal anecdotes and facts about the director, and when played against this superbly constructed thriller, it becomes clear Collinson invested a great deal of care into the project.
Tushingham sees the film as a sixties movie made in the seventies, and the swinging atmosphere of the characters - hippy parties with lurid sex, cool cars, and fashionable, converted lofts - are less garish than one would expect to find; largely, because Collinson went for splashes of primary colours over the traditional architecture and décor of London. The blending of old and new is best captured in the film's brilliantly designed and decorated loft for Briant - an open concept 3-level townhouse, with warm lighting, and the fusion of wood grains, wrought iron, stainless steel, and optimistic colours from plastic and fabric surfaces & textures. Anchor Bay's transfer preserves these elements, plus the natural skin tones of Collinson's extensive facial close-ups that sustain the performers intensity.
The mono soundtrack is well balanced, and sound cuts reflect the flashback and 'lateral thinking' edits that Collinson uses for sudden character recollections. Annie Ross, who plays one of Briant's lovers, also croons the tragic theme song (briefly released as a single), and composer Roland Shaw incorporates Ross' original material with his own dramatic underscore & jazzy cuts for several montage sequences.
Meant to be released as a double-bill with "Fear In The Night," the "Straight On Till Morning" trailer shows how Anglo-EMI had no idea how to distribute the film, billing the picture - tongue deliberately in cheek - as "A Love Story From Hammer," blowing several powerful emotionally charged scenes. Don't watch the trailer until you've seen the film, as the ending's construction is revealed!
A Peter Collinson Bio - also present on Anchor Bay's disc for "Fright" - combines print quotes from the director with interview material from his widow, and the narrative provides a solid bio of Collinson's film career. More specific material on the film's role as part of Hammer's misguided production re-alignment by Michael Carreras can also be found in Jonathan Southcott's booklet notes, along with brief career profiles for stars Tushingham, Briant, and director Collinson.
With much of the director's work comprising a handful of pictures for Paramount Pictures & several international entities, Anchor Bay's DVD offers both genre fans and admirers of the director to enjoy one of his best works.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan