Hemisphere Pictures, Glazier, USA, Sweden, Panama, 1971
AKA: Lunatic, Salem Come to Supper
Director: Laslo Benedek
Writer: Guy Elmes, Samuel Roeca
Cast: Max von Sydow, Trevor Howard, Liv Ullmann, Per Oscarsson, Rupert Davies, Andrew Keir, Jim Kennedy, Arthur Hewlett, Hanne Bork, Gretchen Franklin, Bjørn Watt-Boolsen, Lotte Freddie, Erik Kühnau
Salem is in an asylum for the criminally insane, convicted of the axemurder of a farmhand. He claims he is innocent, that he was framed by his sister and her husband, and that he was misrepresented by his lawyer. At the trial his lawer changed the plea from not guilty to guilty by reason of insanity at the last minute, and thus getting Salem off jail but still locked away.
Two years after the trial things start to get weird at the farm where his two sisters, Emmie and Ester, and his brother in law, Dr. Anton Jenks, still live. There is some tension between the sisters as Anton and Ester wants to sell the family farm, while Emmie refuses. Ester and Anton owns one third and also controls Salems part, but Emmie still owns one third so they can’t really do anything unless they can make her change her mind, or if she would die and leave her part to Ester.
Dr. Jenks get called away to a house nearby where the daughter has been found dead in her bed. He can see she has ben strangled and when he opens his bag there are hypodermic needles and sedatives missing but for some reason they have been exchanged for several of his own ties. He suspect his wife for this and confront her when he gets back home. Their parrot drives him mad by repeating “Hit him Anton” over and over but when he throws the cage to the floor the parrot gets loose.
Anton claims he saw Salem standing in a closet when chasing the parrot. He believes Salem somehow has found a way to sneak out from the asylum at night and then sneak back in again. Maybe to get revenge and hurt the people responsible for putting him there in the first place. Ester doesn’t know what to believe and starts to doubt she can trust her husbands sanity.
Salem is a skilled chess player, and at the asylum he plays with one of the wardens. In The Seventh Seal Max von Sydow portraits a knight who plays chess with Death. The Seventh Seal was of course directed by Ingmar Bergman who is the father of Liv Ullmans daughter Linn. In Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land von Sydow and Ullman plays husband and wife. To americans von Sydow is probably most known as Father Merrin from The Exorcist. He never played chess with the Devil though.
The Night Visitor is a straight forward told story, even if there is some sort of twist a la Edgar Allan Poe at the end. There is also a lot of Max von Sydow running in the snow in his underwear.
My verdict: 6 out of 10.
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