For stars of the calibre of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the 1960’s is not considered to be their most memorable period in film. It was a time when they faced a career decline and had to resort to starring in campy horror films in order to earn more money, but the same can’t be said for Barbara Stanwyck, who was attaining efficient results for her work in the television medium, and went on to garner critical acclaim for her meritorious portrayal of Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.
Before her triumphant portrayal of Victoria Barkley, the matriarch of the wealthy Barkley family in The Big Valley, Barbara Stanwyck delivered her final film performance in 1964 when she appeared in The Night Walker, a psychological suspense thriller directed by horror veteran, William Castle, and starring Stanwyck’s ex husband, Robert Taylor.
Unlike the other films by William Castle that relied on gimmicks to carry the production through, The Night Walker focused entirely on the reteaming of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor and the screenplay that was written by Robert Bloch, who had built himself a reputation since writing the novel in which Psycho was based on.
Even though William Castle dilated his directorial skills to help boast wide encomium, The Night Walker was not financially successful on it’s release. Instead it received innumerable mixed reviews that were generally favorable, most notably for the Stanwyck and Taylor reunion.
The Night Walker is a thrilling tale that takes you into the bizarre world of Irene Trent ( Barbara Stanwyck ) the isolated wife of Howard Trent, a wealthy blind man who is jealous and controlling of Irene and suspects through her persistent dreams that she’s having an affair with a handsome young man with glowing blue eyes.
After Howard is killed in an explosion in their gloomy dark mansion, Irene decides to still occupy the residence, but after a night of extremely vivid nightmares about Howard returning from the dead to haunt her, she leaves the mansion and relocates to her old apartment that is situated at the back of her beauty shop she owns. However this method don’t work. Irene continues to suffer from recurring terrifying dreams that force her to turn to her attorney Barry Morland ( Robert Taylor ) for help, but unfortunately for Irene, Barry is sceptical of the whole situation, and Irene is forever enduring months of nightmares.
The Night Walker was directed by William Castle, who was prolific in turning out campy horror productions that were short lived at the cinema and disappeared shorty after release, but unlike some of Castle’s other films including Straight Jacket that are evidently made on a cheap budget, the expenses is not easily apparent with this suspenseful thriller.
Usually I’m not really a fan of William Castle films. I’ve always found them to be poorly crafted and lacking the chills that a real horror, thriller production contains, but that is not the case with The Night Walker. This is a film that is abounded with plenty of terrifying moments. First we are haunted by the ghostly presence of Howard Trent, the creaky doors that close by themselves and the frightening sounds of Howard’s cane. Then when we think that Irene is free of these fearful dreams once she relocates to her previous residence at the beauty shop, the viewer and Irene herself discover that these horrific dreams continue, leaving Irene terror stricken and exhausted from these nightmares and the sounds of the cane moving closer and closer.
The Night Walker is not a spectacular movie, but since Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite actress, I consider it to be just that. The film contains a myriad of mystery, suspense and plenty of spellbinding twists that results in one unexpected finale.
The films main redeeming feature is the stellar cast. Barbara Stanwyck as always is commendable. Here she delivers an inimitable portrayal of a woman who is constantly haunted by recurring nightmares, and her performance is more than effective. Stanwyck with her indomitable presence and indelible talents is the only actress that could make a William Castle film so appealing, and what better way is there to finish your motion picture career than to star in a totally eerie and atmospheric thriller?
Barbara Stanwyck’s final motion picture. After this she worked exclusively on television.
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor divorced twelve years before the films release.
Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82. Cause of death: Congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Robert Taylor: Born Spangler Arlington Brugh Taylor on August 5th, 1911 in Filley, Nebraska. Died: June 8th, 1969 in Santa Monica, California. Cause of death: Lung Cancer.