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Films: N is for...

Night Train To Murder

Atoll K. Love Happy. Kook’s Tour. The history of comedy acts is littered with sad, misbegotten career sign-offs, and this Morecambe and Wise endpiece is a prime example. Even the staunchest Morecambe-ite has reservations about their three ‘proper’ films, but this comes in way below even The Magnificent Two. After their lacklustre Thames series, Euston Films put together this extended Agatha Christie spoof, with Lysette Anthony as Eric’s neice inheriting a vast fortune, with the resultant attempts on her life taking place on the titular nocturnal locomotive. Like a ‘Play What I Wrote’ extended to near-feature length, this misjudged the atmosphere by making the plot lead the duo’s slapstick like never before, leaving just the odd recycled exchange poking out from a dreary thriller plot. It’s as if Ernie the playwright had finally got the upper hand over Eric, and we get to see the fruits of his artistic labour almost uninterrupted. What humour there is is so tragically muted you could play The Last Post on it. Director Joe McGrath did no further films after this. In a face-saving plea, Eric insisted Thames only ever showed the film in mid-afternoon slots. To be honest, even that’s too good for it.

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1 Comment

  1. Tom Ronson

    May 23, 2022 at 11:10 pm

    The main reason Eric and Ernie left the BBC for ITV in ’78 was not just because Lord Thames was offering them a sack of cash, although that certainly helped – Eric wasn’t in the best of health, and wanted to make sure his family (and little Ern, of course) were financially settled in case the worst happened (which it did, in May 1984). No, they thought the three films they’d made during the sixties, written by Sid Green and Dick Hills (or ‘Sick and Did’, as Eric called them) were disappointing, and the knowledge that Thames had its own film production unit (Euston, responsible for The Sweeney and Minder, among other) sealed the deal. Sadly, Eric had a second heart attack in the late seventies, which made him a very bad insurance risk, so their ‘film’ ended up being shot on video. The Goodies were similarly screwed over when they moved to LWT – they were promised a film project, which turned out to be their final Christmas special, Snow White 2, which was shot entirely on film (and contained a stunt that went badly wrong and almost killed them).

    I watched Morecambe and Wise’s sixties films again recently after buying them from a charity shop for just 50p each. The Intelligence Men is rubbish, but at least they had the foresight to make the final half-hour reasonably entertaining. That Riviera Touch – which Kenneth Williams admitted to rather enjoying in his diaries – actually stands up pretty well, and it’s unusual (and refreshing) to see Eric as the romantic lead. The Magnificent Two is awful. There are one or two good scenes, and Eric’s good value in the last act when he’s required to organise a resistance force, but none of the films have enough jokes or clever writing to really make them shine.

    Night Train to Murder is terrible, of course, but I defy any serious Morecambe and Wise fan not to shed a tear during the end credits, when the two of them wander off into the distance together singing the old music hall number (and Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band favourite) Little Sir Echo. There’s added poignancy in the knowledge that it would be their last appearance together, too.

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