Pretentious art house bomb, neglected masterpiece or inscrutable personal project for Joseph Losey? Secret Ceremony (1968) had the misfortune to follow Boom! (1968), the director’s notoriously lambasted film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore starring the world’s most famous celebrity couple at the time, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Equally challenging for mainstream audiences, Secret Ceremony was promoted as a kinky psychodrama with lesbian overtones and such tag lines as “It’s time to speak of unspoken things” and “No one admitted the last 12 minutes.” Yet, despite the presence of Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum and Mia Farrow, who had just appeared in the as-yet-unreleased Rosemary’s Baby the same year, the movie was too strange, decadent and moody to hold the attention of moviegoers and critics expecting a more traditional genre film.
What do you get when you mix together a serial killer thriller, a May-December romance between an older woman and younger man and a masochistic mother-adopted daughter relationship melodrama with echoes of Now, Voyager (1942)? The result, The Night Digger (1971, aka The Road Builder), from a screenplay by Roald Dahl, is much more homogeneous than you’d expect and is an unjustifiably overlooked curiosity in the filmography of Patricia Neal. Continue reading →