RogerBW's Blog

Dark Intruder 12 September 2015

1965, dir. Harvey Hart, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Mark Richman; IMDb / allmovie

San Francisco, 1891. Playboy Brett Kingsford is secretly an occult detective. When his best friend's fiancée comes to him describing her husband-to-be's strange mental state, he starts to look into it.

This was intended to be the pilot for a TV series, The Black Cloak. That wasn't taken up, so it was released on its own as a short film. It's a little under an hour long, and it's a flawed gem.

For a start, Nielsen is in his straight-acting prime, between Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure. Richman, as the best friend, is also good, with a face that gradually becomes more drawn and hollow as the tension mounts and it starts to look as though he might be responsible (during his blackouts) for the Ripper-style murders of a number of young women. Even Judi Meredith as the fiancée, while occasionally annoying, does an excellent job of being the foil to Nielsen's more serious hero. Other characters are clearly bit players, but get the job done.

Another good point is the photography, in black and white for TV broadcast. Combined with the solid production design, it lends an air of elegance to the proceedings, even though if you pay attention you'll notice that an awful lot is described rather than shown. (And the clawed hands of the murderer look distinctly… rubbery.)

The script, by Barré Lyndon, is workmanlike rather than stunning; Kingsford's playboy dialogue is overdone and tends to irritate, and various sideways references to the Cthulhu mythos were probably inserted by producer Jack Laird. On the other hand it's an attempt to tell a rather more sophisticated story than was common in TV or film at the time, and it largely succeeds: even what seems to be a pat ending in the last ten minutes is mostly setup for the real conclusion.

As a TV series, it might have been The Night Stalker twenty years early. And it might have run out of ideas as that show largely did. But what did get made is still rather enjoyable. At the time of writing the film was available to view at Dailymotion.

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