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A man named Salem escapes from an insane asylum where he was confined for an axe-murder. Falsely convicted under a plea of "guilty due to insanity", he does not plan to let his sister and her husband forget that they were responsible for the murder of a farmhand and for his cruel imprisonment in the asylum.Written by
Max von Sydow plays Salem, wrongly convicted of a murder and sent to stay in an asylum for the criminally insane. As the movie opens, he has successfully pulled off an escape, and he wreaks vengeance upon his hapless family. However, because he is able to actually return to his cell in time, suspicion falls upon his brother in law, Anton (Per Oscarsson), instead. An inspector played by the always solid Trevor Howard must solve these baffling crimes.
Slasher fans might hear of this one and get their hopes up, due to the violence suggested in certain scenes, but we never see any actual killings. This is more of a straightforward thriller. It overcomes a rather trite story set up to deliver an incredibly engaging yarn; it's what director Laslo Benedek ("The Wild One") and company do with the material that matters. It's filmed on location in Denmark and Sweden, in some mightily forbidding looking country; you can practically feel the cold while you watch. The atmosphere is stark and impressive, helped all the more by an unusual but amazing Henry Mancini score. It's deliberately paced but fascinating, especially when Benedek and screenwriter Guy Elmes (who works from Samuel Roecas' original story) lay out for us the tons of preparations that Salem has to go through in order to pull off each escape from and return to the asylum.
Von Sydow is typically excellent, as is Liv Ullmann as his sister, Oscarsson as the volatile, panicky Anton, Rupert Davies as a savvy but sickly lawyer, Andrew Keir as the asylums' head doctor, and Arthur Hewlett as the genial old Pop. Watching this, it's easy to root for Von Sydow, especially during the finale where he must "beat the clock", and the tension is undeniable. This intoxicating film sure does keep you on your toes at times. And "The Night Visitor" does end on an irresistible, rather humorous note.
It could definitely stand to be better known.
Eight out of 10.
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