The Night Walker is a psychological thriller/mystery/horror film from 1964. The picture stars an acclaimed actress, who gives a most unusual performance. You won’t believe the wild screaming by this Hollywood star—it’s nuts!
The Night Walker was produced and directed by William Castle, one of the titans of B-movie filmmaking. Castle was infamous for his gimmicks, like the time he had buzzers attached to theater seats in order to give audiences a jolt during The Tingler (1959). Just prior to The Night Walker, Castle turned to stunt casting, enlisting Joan Crawford to play a deranged, ax-wielding murderess in Strait-Jacket (1964), with the former A-lister giving a famously over-the-top performance. For The Night Walker, Castle wanted to reunite actors Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, who were married from 1939-1951. The two, who had remained friends following their divorce, agreed to appear in the film.
Stanwyck and Taylor in a publicity still for ‘The Night Walker.’
Barbara Stanwyck was amongst the biggest female film stars of her era, playing the lead actress role in such classics as Meet John Doe (1941), The Lady Eve (1941), and Double Indemnity (1944). By the late ‘50s, she was acting primarily in television. Robert Taylor wasn’t quite the Hollywood commodity that Stanwyck was, though he does have quite a few credits.
In The Night Walker, Stanwyck plays Irene Trent, the protagonist of the film. After her husband dies in a fire, Irene starts having intense nightmares involving her late spouse, as well as a mysterious figure who just might be the man of her dreams (see what I did there?). But is this just in her subconscious, or actually occurring in real life? Convinced it’s the latter, she turns to her husband’s lawyer—and potential new beau—Barry Moreland (played by Taylor), to help her get to the bottom of it. Along the way, we the viewers are treated to some pleasingly surreal imagery—even if it the special effects aren’t all that “special.” Still, this is fun stuff.
Though not without its flaws, The Night Walker is an entertaining B-movie mystery, even if it is spoiled a bit (or enhanced, depending on your point of view) by the silly, Scooby Doo-like ending.
The boss artwork used in the posters for The Night Walker was done by Reynold Brown, who was responsible for some of the most iconic film poster images of the ‘50s and ‘60s. The marketing materials are characteristic of exploitation flicks, in which the courted audience is essentially dared to see the film.
The Night Walker ended up being Stanwyck’s final appearance on the big screen. Stanwyck was a solid, award-winning actress, so it’s a trip to see her get so unhinged in the picture. Biographer Dan Callahan believes the actress gave a purposely exaggerated performance:
Stanwyck has fun with her juicy role, especially when she gets to scream in horror. Her first set of screams sound succulent, even orchestral, a Phil Spector wall of sound (she ends the last one on a smoker’s hacking cough). Later on she does another set of basso yowls, this time putting her whole body into it and throwing her head back to punctuate one of her screams. Best of all, when her tormented dreamer realizes what a jam she’s in, Stanwyck decides to amuse herself and us by going all-out hambone. “I can’t wake up,” she says, breathlessly letting it sink in. “I can’t wake up!” she cries, making the realization louder and more uncontrolled. And then, “I CAN’T WAKE U-h-h-h-h-h-a-HUP!” she howls, putting both arms over her face like some bygone great lady of the stage. (taken from Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman)
You can easily judge for yourself, as some nice YouTuber put together a handy compilation of Stanwyck screaming and carrying on in The Night Walker.
Are you ready?
Continues after the jump…