Peter Cushing as Dr. Blyss/aka Captain Clegg in NIGHT CREATURES (1962)
THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)
Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at and celebrate Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies. Today we look at one of my favorite Peter Cushing movies, the hardly heard of and extremely underrated Hammer Film NIGHT CREATURES (1962).
NIGHT CREATURES was one of Hammer’s forays into the pirate movie genre, and yes, they made several movies about pirates. At the time, NIGHT CREATURES was most notable for its competition with a Walt Disney production of the same story. As you would expect, the Disney version, DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963), starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, dominated at the time and was a hit back in the early 1960s when it aired in three installments on the Disney TV program Wonderful World of Color in 1964. It was later was re-edited into a feature length film.
What this meant for HAMMER, was that for years NIGHT CREATURES was lost in the shuffle and remained largely an unwatched film, which is too bad, because it’s one of Hammer’s best. It was never released on VHS in the United States. It is available now on DVD.
In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, aka Captain Clegg, a reformed pirate who is now posing as a parson, while still involved in illegal rum smuggling in the town of Dymchurch. But he is very much reformed, as he prohibits his men from using violence, and like Robin Hood, he uses the money earned from the rum smuggling to help the poor and hungry.
Things grow complicated when Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), the man who had chased Captain Clegg over the high seas, arrives in Dymchurch with a company of soldiers to investigate reports of drug smuggling.
In the Disney version, the main character Dr. Syn disguised himself as a scarecrow, hence Disney’s title. In NIGHT CREATURES, it’s Dr. Blyss’ young associate Harry Crabtree (Oliver Reed) who dons the guise of a scarecrow to serve as a lookout.
Here’s a look at some fun quotes from NIGHT CREATURES, screenplay by Anthony Hinds and Barbara S. Harper, based on the novel Dr. Syn by Russell Thorndike:
When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) first meets Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing) he doesn’t recognize him as Captain Clegg, since he’s dressed as a parson and it’s likely the captain never set eyes on the pirate while chasing him. Plus, Captain Clegg is reportedly dead.
Collier is looking for a place for his men to stay the night, but Blyss has no intention of helping out. He wants Collier to march his men back to their ship for the night so he can deliver the rum shipment without impediment. The dialogue throughout the film between Blyss and Collier is some of the most lively and most memorable in the film. Let’s listen:
DR. BLYSS: Ah, Captain, admiring our little church? And you’ve removed your hat I see. Are you no longer in the service of the king?
CAPTAIN: I came to find the Squire. But I’m also looking for quarters for my men, Parson.
DR. BLYSS (looking at the interior of his church): Not in here, I hope.
CAPTAIN (smiling): No. But you’ll know the most suitable places.
DR. BLYSS: Ah, yes. Have you tried the inn?
CAPTAIN: Oh come now, Parson, there’s only one room in the inn.
DR. BLYSS: And you’ve taken that I expect. Well, it’s hardly big enough for all of you, is it? Let me see now. There’s Mrs. Wagstaft, but no, she’s just had another, hasn’t she? Her thirteenth I think it is. That would be a little crowded, wouldn’t it? And a little noisy too I expect! (laughs) Would you mind just holding that? (hands Captain his prayer booke so he can put on his gloves.) Dr. Pepper has a spare room. But he’s been attending some rather nasty cases of the plague recently so I couldn’t really recommend there.
No. No, I’m afraid the inn is about all we can offer. Thank you. (takes back book) Really I think the best thing you can do is to march your men back to the ship just for tonight and then march them back again here tomorrow.
CAPTAIN: We’re staying the night in Dymchurch.
DR. BLYSS: Are you? (with a curious grin) I wonder where?
Earlier Dr. Blyss has to deal with one of his most unreliable men, Mr. Rash (Martin Benson). Hammer favorite Michael Ripper also appears in this scene, as he enjoys one of his best roles in this one, as Dr. Blyss’ right hand man, the coffin maker, Mr. Mipps. In this scene, Rash panics over the presence of Captain Collier and his men, and he orders his fellow smugglers to destroy the rum, but Dr. Blyss arrives and is none too happy with Rash’s behavior here.
RASH (ordering the disposal of the rum): Get rid of it!
DR. BLYSS: Mr. Rash! Since when have you given orders?
RASH: Well, I thought with all them fellas snooping ar—.
DR. BLYSS: There’s no need for you to think. I think for all of you. Is that clearly understood?
RASH: As you say.
DR. BLYSS: Exactly. As I say. The goods will be delivered tonight in the usual way, at midnight.
MAN: What about the revenue men?
DR. BLYSS: There’s a chance they’ll be gone by then.
RASH: Well suppose they’re not gone? I don’t like it!
DR. BLYSS: I am not interested in whether you like it or not, Mr. Rash! Just as long as you do as I tell you. You’ve been in this trade long enough to know we all have to take risks.
RASH (to Mipps): It’s been all right for him. He’s done very nicely out of it all these years.
MIPPS: Yes, very nicely. He’s taken all of his fair share and squandered it on food for those who were hungry and clothes for them that didn’t have any.
DR. BLYSS: All right, Mr. Mipps. Now listen. I want the word spread that the king’s men are not to be offered accommodation in the village. There is to be no room for them anywhere.
DR. BLYSS: And remember: there’s to be no violence, either. Mr. Rash!
RASH: I heard you.
DR. BLYSS: Then say so! Midnight then.
Captain Collier arrives in Dymchurch upon the tip of a man named Tom Ketch. The film opens with Ketch’s death, a victim of “the Marsh Phantoms.” In this scene, Captain Collier asks Mr. Mipps to take him to Ketch. The Captain doesn’t know Ketch is dead, and Mipps for his own amusement leads the Captain to believe that the man is still alive.
This scene is a great showcase for Michael Ripper’s acting abilities, as he gets to enjoy some great lines as Mr. Mipps here:
MIPPS: But Captain, you came here to see Tom Ketch, didn’t you? (calls) Tom?
(They walk across the room and in a dramatic revelation, Mipps shows the Captain Tom Ketch’s dead body.)
MIPPS: Came in this morning. I haven’t had time to touch him up yet.
CAPTAIN COLLIER: He was alive last night. How did he die?
MIPPS: He was found floating in one of the ponds on the marshes. The Squire found him this morning when he was out riding, the Squire—.
CAPTAIN (angrily): How did he die, man?
MIPPS: Dr. Pepper signed the certificate, natural causes, but I should have thought from the look of the poor fellow that he died of fright. Now, that’s more like unnatural causes.
CAPTAIN: Frightened to death? What by?
MIPPS: Well, he didn’t tell us of course, being dead, but I think it was the Marsh Phantoms.
CAPTAIN: The what?
MIPPS: The Marsh Phantoms. People around here don’t believe in them, say they don’t exist, but that’s during the day time of course. At night if you ask them to go for a walk across the marshes you’ll find that they have something very much more important to do like bolting the door and going to bed.
CAPTAIN: Old wives’ tales. You said the Squire discovered the body?
CAPTAIN: Where do I find him?
MIPPS: He’ll probably be at the church saying his prayers. Shall I take you to him?
CAPTAIN: No, I’ll find it.
MIPPS: As you wish.
MIPPS (To Ketch’s corpse): Thanks, matey!
I’d also like to give a shout out to Patrick Allen who is absolutely spot-on as Captain Collier. He’s right up there with Peter Cushing and Michael Ripper in this one, in terms of acting.
In this scene, Collier thinks he has found his scarecrow, and he thinks it’s Dr. Blyss. The night before, his men shot at a scarecrow that moved, wounding it in the arm, but when they reached the spot where the scarecrow had been, the figure was gone. They did find blood, however.
The next morning, in Dr. Blyss’ home, Collier discovers muddy boots, and he thinks he has found his man. He intends to prove it:
CAPTAIN: Did you sleep well last night?
DR. BLYSS: Why, exceptionally well. And you? Oh, no, you were out looking for the phantoms, weren’t you? Of course! Don’t tell me you’ve only just returned?
DR. BLYSS: Dear me, you must have walked a long way. Did you have any luck?
CAPTAIN: Yes, and no.
DR. BLYSS: That’s comprehensive, anyway. (pouring coffee) Cream? What did you find?
(Captain shows him boots he just found in hall)
CAPTAIN: A scarecrow that bled. (grabs Blyss’ arm. Blyss flinches. Rolls up Blyss’ sleeve but does not see the expected bullet wound) Why did you flinch when I touched your arm?
DR. BLYSS: It wasn’t my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot.
If you’ve never seen NIGHT CREATURES, you’re missing quite a treat. It’s one of Hammer’s best movies.
Thanks for joining me today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING. I’ll see you next time on another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING when we look at more fun quotes from another memorable Peter Cushing movie.
Thanks for reading!