THE NIGHT VISITOR (Laslo Benedek, 1971)

Laslo Benedek, who in different films had once directed Fredric March, Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra, got to direct two of the actors who made my list of the fifty best film actors of all time, Swedes Per Oscarsson and Max von Sydow, in a frightening, highly entertaining though formally messy thriller about two axe murderers, related by marriage, in The Night Visitor. Liv Ullmann is also on board as the wife of one and the sister of the other, and part of the film’s eventual pleasure is that Liv Ullmann, as the result of someone’s swings of an ax, becomes Liv + Ull + mann. (Now if we can only have a remake with Meryl Streep in the part . . . .) Trevor Howard plays the police investigator. An adorable parrot, let me add, gets in the last word.
     Only Oscarsson can be credited with what might be a third of the way in the direction of a performance, but von Sydow is highly active here, climbing trees and up and down insane asylum walls. I suspect that Max the Ax is so batty because his character is named Salem. A name like that can’t help a guy.
     Guy Elmes wrote the preposterous script from an original story by Samuel Roeca. The terrible music is by Henry Mancini.


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