Sociology lecturer Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a firm believer in rationality and science, attributing his rapid career advancement to his own abilities. When he discovers that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch and has been since their time in Jamaica - she believes a local witchdoctors' intervention saved Norman's life when he was seriously ill - he forces her to burn the various charms and fetishes that festoon their house, which hitherto he had been blind to.

Returning to college, a van nearly hits Norman. It seemed to come out of nowhere, though he rationalises this as being more to do with the speed it was travelling than anything else. Later he is faced with accusations of unfair treatment and sexual misconduct. Though he is able to successfully defend himself against both, again he refuses to make a connection: it is simply a neurotic, obsessive woman telling stories and her jealous boyfriend doing his bit to back them up. Simple psychology, nothing more - or so Norman continues to tell himself...

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Probably the finest hour-and-a-half of director Sidney Hayers' long and generally undistinguished career, Night Of The Eagle is a generally impressive exercise in understatement and suggestion that has never received the recognition it warrants when compared to The Haunting, The Innocents and - perhaps most pertinently - Night/Curse Of The Demon, perhaps on account of lacking the name recognition and credentials of those films - Robert Wise, Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton, M R James, Henry James etc.

Like them, it is one of the rare Anglo-American ventures into the world of what Bulgarian born, French based literary theorist Tzvetan Todorov would term "the fantastique", characterised by a oscillation and vacillation between the poles of "the uncanny", within which the supernatural cannot exist, and "the marvellous", in which is it acknowledged that it does.

Indeed, in these terms it could even be argued that Night Of The Eagle is more successful than Demon, insofar as it sustains the viewer's suspension of (dis)belief far longer, refusing to align us for once and all with Norman's, or Tansy's, respective interpretations ("If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences": W I Thomas).

In Tourneur's film the decision to show the titular demon at the outset, as it claims its latest victim, establishes its reality and thereby the danger the sceptical protagonist's disbelief poses him. Here, by contrast, the Eagle's night comes only at the end.

The key images are those of the blackboard - we use the term deliberately, as the one appropriate to the context of Fritz Leiber's 1943 source novel, Conjure Wife, expertly adapted by George Baxt, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson; all being names but only of the cult rather than culturally valued variety, and the 1962 film, as a pre-feminist, pre-postmodern political correctness evocation of its milieu - which bookend the film.

At the beginning Norman writes his credo, "I do not believe." At the end he moves in front of the word “not”, neither to erase it, nor remove it as admission that he was wrong, but merely to allow it be obscured and invisible for a moment.

It is a brilliant image, the defining moment of the defining film of Hayer's career, that compensates for the occasional lapses elsewhere - some less than satisfactory effects work and an over-emphatic score are two of the main offenders, taken in the context of early Sixties horror production, as well as Blair's performance which might be considered a touch too hysterical for its own good.

Perhaps it is that moment of uncertainty and hesitation, for, in line with the essence of the film, could we not also see it as an effective demonstration of a very real fear that is fatally misread by the (initially) calm, collected and oh-so-self assured Norman (Wyngarde is excellent in the role, very much to the manner born) to be the kind of neurotic femininity that only confirms the rectitude of his own prejudices?

Given the big budget reworkings of horror classics over the past years, it is surprising that no one has yet remade Night Of The Eagle. Then again, given the possibility of, say, Oleanna and lesbian sex magick being thrown into the filmmaker’s blender that may not be such a bad thing - at least as far as the purist in me is concerned.

Reviewed on: 25 Apr 2007
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A college psychology lecturer discovers that his wife is a practising witch.
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Director: Sidney Hayers

Writer: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, George Baxt, based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber Jr

Starring: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon, Kathleen Byron, Reginald Beckwith, Jessica Dunning, Norman Bird, Judith Stott, Bill Mitchell

Year: 1962

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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