The Night Digger/Review

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< The Night Digger
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The Night Digger, a “tale of the strange and perverse,” is an atmospheric psycho-sexual drama elevated by three distinct and memorable performances.


In a down on its luck mansion on the outskirts of London, an infirm blind woman named Edith (Pamela Brown) and her adopted daughter Maura (Patricia Neal) live their eventless lives hermetically: that is until a handsome, if evasive, young drifter named Billy (Nicholas Clay) enters their inner sanctum and changes everything. While the three negotiate the mendacity of their lives, local young women go missing, providing the trio with a dread filled backdrop in front of which emotions flare and truths unfold.

As spinster Maura, Academy Award-winner Patricia Neal (Hud) is, as always, fantastic; fully inhabiting her role as a plain indentured servant whose boss is her manipulative and ungrateful mother. As mother Edith, Pamela Brown is equally good. Playing blind is tricky for an actor and there isn’t a false note in Brown’s nagging, frustrated portrayal. And in his screen debut Nicholas Clay as Billy is camera ready and natural: tears, guile and seething sexuality are convincingly displayed.


Slow at first, The Night Digger picks up steam as it goes along and isn’t afraid to wade into controversial waters. Flashbacks reveal Billy’s childhood sexual abuse; both female and male nudity are casually displayed; and the plight of a desperate woman seeking liberation from life’s current strictures is unflinchingly explored.

A bomb at the box office—perhaps it was the awful title, The Night Digger (an update of the original awful title The Road Builder) has an exceptional score by Bernard (Psycho) Herrmann, a script by Roald Dahl and direction by Alastair Reed. Worthy of rediscovery.


Josiah Howard is the author of four books including Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television. Visit his Official Website.

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