Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review - "Captain Clegg" AKA "Night Creatures" (1962)

Hammer Studios is today best remembered for its contributions to the horror genre. But their work in other fields is just as impressive, and today's film, though marketed as another horror picture, is quite different from the studio's norm. Captain Clegg (1962) is an entertaining pirate film starring Peter Cushing in one of his finest performances, and today I'll take a closer look at this unorthodox movie as we continue with Peter Cushing Month.

Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrives in a small coastal English village to investigate mysterious goings-on. It seems as though the town is being ravaged by ghosts - mysterious, skeletal figures glimpsed riding on horseback throughout the nearby marshlands. Collier is suspicious of everyone, and becomes even more so when the kindly Reverend Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing) points out the pirate Captain Clegg's grave in the churchyard. Little does Collier know that Blyss is in actuality in charge of an elaborate smuggling scheme, transporting illegal liquor out of the village. As Collier closes in on the truth, he jeopardizes the lives of the squire's son, Harry (Oliver Reed) as well as the woman he loves, Imogene (Yvonne Romain). Will Blyss and the others manage to escape free, and what secret is the seemingly innocuous clergyman hiding?

Though it was obviously marketed as a horror film, Captain Clegg is not. No matter how much attention the marsh phantoms receive on posters and the film's trailer, the film is truly a character piece and an elaborate game of cat and mouse. Oddly enough, the closest thing which I can liken this film to is the 1973 crime caper film, The Sting starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman!

The finest thing about the film is Peter Cushing's wonderful performance, one of his finest from '60's. Cushing is obviously having a grand old time playing the role of Reverend Dr. Blyss, and honestly I cannot see how he couldn't. The character of Dr. Blyss is not a hero, nor he is a villain, making him a complex character and a ripe one for any actor to play. Cushing, a fan of all kind of swashbuckling cinema, finally got the opportunity to play a gung-ho character, and come the blood-and-thunder finale, he actually gets to swing on a chandelier! Cushing's performance truly makes Captain Clegg.

The other actor of note is Patrick Allen whose performance as Captain Collier is just as morally ambiguous as Cushing's Blyss. Allen and Cushing have great on-screen chemistry, and their scenes together shine, especially as Collier comes closer to learning the truth behind Dr. Blyss and the marsh phantoms. It is also interesting to note Allen's varied filmography. Aside from his performance herein, Allen turned in a number of on-screen appearances, including an early turn in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. Allen also did a great deal of voice work during his long career, and he narrated the first series of Blackadder starring the great Rowan Atkinson. Small world getting smaller.

Captain Clegg is a film which is liable to surprise its viewer who goes into the movie expecting the usual Hammer horror show. It is an adventure of the best kind and with a number of show-stopping pieces and brilliant performances, it proves to be on the studio's best offerings. I give Captain Clegg 4 out of 5 stars.

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