6 January 2007 | ShadeGrenade
The End Of The Road For Eric And Ernie
In 1977, Morecambe and Wise were at the top of their game. Their Christmas Show of that year was watched by a staggering 28 million people. They had become a national institution.
So what made them quit the B.B.C.? Money? No, there was more to it than that. Thames Television had a feature film division - Euston Films - and Eric and Ernie, unhappy with their earlier big screen offerings, wanted a second bite of the celluloid cherry.
The result was 'Night Train To Murder' which, astonishingly, was made on videotape. Set in 1946, it stars our heroes as two down on their luck entertainers. Catherine, Eric's niece, turns up at the theatre where they are performing. Hiding in the wings is a masked assassin...
Sensing a chance to make some money, the lads appoint themselves her 'guardians'. Sinister lawyer Mackay goes with them to Scotland and here we get one of the film's few funny scenes as Eric and Ernie's Poker hands change each time their train enters a tunnel.
At Austin Hall, they encounter a cast of likely victims/suspects, amongst them battle axe Lady Flora, Velda the vamp, a Lurch-style butler and Kenneth Haigh in a variety of roles. Before you can say 'Cluedo', bodies fall out of closets, windows fly open, lightning flashes across the sky, and rats scurry in the basement.
On paper this all must have looked good. Alas, instead of being another 'The Cat And The Canary', it has more in common with Gene Wilder's 1986 turkey 'Haunted Honeymoon'. Eric and Ernie ( who co-wrote the script with director Joe McGrath ) made a mistake in trying a parody a genre exhausted through over parody. Everyone from The Two Ronnies to Frankie Howerd and Michael Palin has had a go at this subject matter at one time or another. With mostly greater success. Besides, Eric and Ernie were getting a bit long in the tooth by 1983; Eric in particular looks tired, which isn't surprising as he had recently undergone a heart operation.
But what really sinks the film is Joe McGrath's inept direction. His misjudges the mood of every scene; the scary bits don't scare, the funny bits...well, work it out for yourself. Despite the odd amusing moment, this misfires on all levels. Eric thought so too; it wasn't screened until well after his death. It was only sympathy for the loss of a great comedian that stopped this from being torn to pieces by the critics and public.