Director: Peter Collinson
Script: John Peacock
Cast: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolan, Katya Wyeth, Annie Ross, Tom Bell, Clarke Kelly, John Clive
Running time: 96 minutes
During the early seventies Hammer Films were trying to take their studios in a different direction than their usual gothic horror output, mostly due to trying to reflect the changing trends in the arts, in culture and throughout society around them at that time, but also due to a more visceral, psychological horror trend that was coming out of America at that time, in reaction to the Vietnam War and other political elements. Hammer’s big cheese at the time, Michael Carreras, was keen to inject some fresh blood into the mix and move away from films that relied too heavily on the star power of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, hence he took a few risks and Straight on till morning is one such risk.
A young woman, Brenda (played brilliantly by Rita Tushingham), desperate to break free of her working-class Northern roots, lies to her mother about being pregnant and tells her that she’s off to find a husband/provider for her and her unborn baby in the 'big smoke' (London). It’s clear, even at this point in proceedings, that Brenda is a naive dreamer who knows little of the real world and is vulnerable to having her innocence abused. And it doesn’t take long for her to bump into strange toff, Peter (Shane Briant, in one of his strongest roles), who she pursues, via his dog, and she ends up becoming his live-in helper.
Peter is actually a vicious sociopath, who has a shady past and a very dangerous psychology, and thinks nothing of committing murder if it gets him nearer to his life-goals. For a time he actually takes a shine to the rather 'plain-Jane' that is Brenda, because she is not his usual type and is a little simple. At first she doesn’t ask too many questions and is just happy that he’s agreed to give her a baby and a home for them to nest in, at least when he’s ready, that is.
Things finally begin to unravel, especially when Peter realises that he’s now wanted by the cops for the possible abduction of Brenda and also in connection with some other disappearances/murders, hence he needs to lie low; however, Brenda wants to go out and about and shop and meet people. Suffice to say that with a suave psycho on the prowl more bloodied bodies are likely to start piling up!
Straight on till morning is a Hammer film that I’ve missed over the years and, since it’s not typical of their catalogue, is one that I haven’t rushed to track down, but I wish I had done so sooner. While I’d be the first to admit it’s rather slow moving, and hasn’t dated particularly well, and is not particularly visceral for horror fans, the thrills are more subtly there and come more from character interactions, especially the ‘spider and the fly’ types of encounters and conversations that Peter and Brenda have together, which are quite disturbing and enthralling simultaneously.
Yes, the Carnaby street fashions, 70s décor (there’s lots of brown and orange on display here), and the sometimes irritating music (jazzy, lounge muzack) do date the film badly, but Straight on till morning’s characters are still interesting enough to want to spend time with, even when they’re not doing all that much.
Director Peter Collinson (better known for The Italian Job) tries to do something new with the material, which sometimes works (the acting feels more serious and real somehow), and sometimes doesn’t (I wasn’t keen on the flashy editing, especially near the start), but overall this feels as if Ken Loach and Hitchcock had had a bastard film child together! It’s also quite a transgressive piece of cinema and has a Peeping Tom vibe about it at times, and is probably riffing on the notorious Moors Murders case of the time, with its audio recordings of the perpetrator’s murders, giving it a very unpleasant, prescient (for the time) edge.
Ultimately, a film such as this one lives and dies by its performances, and I have to say that both the leads are at the top of their game, and Briant has never been better. It’s just a shame that James Bolam (The Likely Lads) is severely underused, and that the pacing wasn’t a little tighter/faster.
For your information the film’s title is a reference to Peter Pan, and Peter strangely uses the phrase in order to instruct Brenda on how to find his bedroom, namely: ‘turn right at the top of the landing, and then straight on till morning…’
StudioCanal are distributing Straight on till morning on DVD and Blu-ray. The package includes:
Dream Lover (16 mins) – an enjoyable talking-heads mini - documentary, where various respected film journalists and scholars (for example, Jonathan Rigby, Kevin Lyons and John J. Johnston) discuss the film. Here we’re reminded that lead actress Rita Tushingham, first came to stardom in Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1961), where she essays a similar part, and that this was Shane Briant’s only lead role for Hammer; normally he played significant, but supporting parts.
Trailer (3.14 mins) – the opening shot of which looks very much like the one used at the start of Coronation Street – we just needed to see the cat!