Release Date(s)1955 (May 19, 2020)
Studio(s)Ealing Studios/Continental Film Distributors (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
The Night My Number Came Up is based on the Chinese ideas that life is pre-ordained and dreams are a look into the future. Navy Commander Lindsay (Michael Hordern) implores the area’s Wing Commander (Hugh Moxey) to search for a missing transport airplane off the northeastern coast of mainland Japan, a great distance from where it is believed to have gone down. Lindsay pleads with great urgency but says he will not divulge the reason until after the search is made. Initially skeptical, but surprised by Lindsay’s knowledge of secret details of the flight, the Wing Commander agrees.
An extended flashback shows Lindsay sharing a ride to Hong Kong with diplomat Owen Robertson (Alexander Knox) and Air Marshal Hardie (Michael Redgrave). Lindsay is invited to a dinner party at Robertson’s home, along with Hardie’s assistant, Lt. McKenzie (Denholm Elliott). After dinner, Lindsay discusses an odd dream he had the night before in which eight passengers, including Hardie, Robertson, McKenzie, and five crew members are aboard a plane when a storm forces it toward a small fishing village on a Japanese island.
The guests are interested in the dream and a discussion about predestination and the Chinese belief in it ensues. But actuality differs from details of the dream until, one by one, last-minute circumstances align exactly with parts of the dream. These include a plane from the dream replacing the scheduled aircraft, a ride given to a British official, a woman joining the passengers, and the last-minute addition of two more passengers. The suspense builds as reality weirdly parallels the dream, and the fate of the plane and its passengers takes on a supernatural aura.
The Night My Number Came Up is a taut drama with uniformly excellent performances. Screenwriter R.C. Sherriff and director Leslie Norman balance the tale of a plane in peril with the somewhat supernatural element of dreams foretelling the future, a theme dealt with frequently on TV’s One Step Beyond. The film is also a forerunner of The Twilight Zone, a TV show predicated on the inability to reconcile events with science and logic. More recently, the Final Destination films have dealt with fate in all its horrific manifestations. At just 95 minutes, the film builds nicely, presenting layer after layer of coincidence until Hardie, Robertson, and McKenzie begin to seriously consider that they are fated to be the victims of a dream.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the black-and-white Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The film is free of dirt specks, emulsion marks, and surface imperfections, with only a single thin black scratch on the left side of the screen detected. The cinematography by Lionel Banes is particularly effective at blending studio-filmed plane interiors with actual airplane footage and a miniature. For close-ups of the plane flying through fog, smoke was obviously blown across a stationary pitching model, but this is the only weak effect. The rest, particularly a sequence of the plane flying low over a village, is well staged. Within the plane, close-ups show the expressions of characters as situations more and more coincide with Commander Lindsay’s dream.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional subtitles in English SDH are available as well. Dialogue is distinct throughout. Many of the actors are stage-trained and are precise in their diction. There’s considerable dialogue at the beginning, especially as Commander Lindsay makes his unusual request and later when he tells about his dream. As the events unfold, however, visuals take over, with dialogue considerably pared down. Malcolm Arnold’s evocative score sets the mood without sounding overly otherworldly, a wise choice in keeping the action grounded in the here and now. The dinner discussion is natural and authentically replicates a pleasant evening of good food, good company, and interesting conversation.
Bonus features include an audio commentary and a set of trailers.
Audio Commentary – Film historian Samm Deighan refers to The Night My Number Came Up as a “supernatural drama or supernatural thriller.” The film hasn’t received a lot of attention over the years. Screenwriter R.C. Sherriff was a prolific English writer of novels who wrote the screenplays of The Invisible Man, Odd Man Out, and The Dam Busters. Director Leslie Norman was originally an editor and co-director before directing features. He served in the British army in Burma and went on to work a lot in TV. Many films of the post-war period dealt with the after-effects of World War II and were set immediately after the war. Psychological issues and how war affects a large group of people were common themes. The tone of the film is “something strangely melancholic.” The plot is based on a real-life incident that appeared as a story in the The Saturday Evening Post in 1951. Leslie Norman saw the story, wrote a treatment, and asked Michael Balcon to let him direct a film of the subject. The script is subtle, capturing the sense of dread gradually pervading a group of people who feed into each other’s fears. The characters are initially skeptical, but they and audiences eventually realize that reality and dream are becoming one. Other films that deal with the supernatural include Topper, Death Takes a Holiday, On Borrowed Time, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Stairway to Heaven, and Portrait of Jennie. They generally involve optimism, whimsy, sentimentality, visions, and questions about morality, and tend to be romances, musicals, or comedies. The careers of the principal actors are highlighted. Though the film is set in China and Japan, there are no major Asian characters. The “focus doesn’t give you a sense there’s an outside world” and the film never feels pressured to provide explicit exposition. Critics at the time liked the film. Viewers felt it was well acted, well directed, and well written. It was a “sleeper film” that has been largely forgotten. The film ends without fanfare. “You get the sense that the world isn’t so neat and tidy and rational.”
Trailers – Trailers for the following films are included: The Night My Number Came Up, The Captive Heart, and No Highway in the Sky.
– Dennis Seuling