Night Diggers, The (1971): British Psychological Thriller, Starring Oscar-Winner Patricia Neal (Hud), Based on Husband Roald Dahl’s Scenario

Oscar winner Patricia Neal (Hud) made this peculiar little British thriller, based on Joy Cowley’s novel, Nest in a Fallen Tree, adapted to the screen by famous writer (and Neal’s husband at the time) Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

The film was originally released in the U.K. as The Road Builder.

Set in a decaying mansion on the outskirts of London, Night Diggers center on middle-aged spinster Maura Prince (Neal), devoted to the caring for her blind and domineering mother (Pamela Brown).

Things change with the sudden appearance of a handsome stranger, Billy Jarvis (Nicholas Clay), riding on a motorbike and looking for work as a handyman. Billy makes himself indispensable around the house, but his seemingly angelic looks mask dysfunctions that threaten the lives of both women.

The tale is much more compelling in the first hour, which is largely set indoors and unfolds as a chamber piece. The third reel, when Maura and Billy, now romantically involved, embark on a journey to the country, loses the earlier, much needed claustrophobic feel.

Despite narrative flaws and credibility problems, this low-budget thriller, directed in an unpretentious style by Alastair Reid, holds a strange fascination, largely due to Neal’s performance as a sexually starved woman who’s both attracted to and repelled by Billy.

The film benefits from the tension that radiates from the very presence of Nicholas Clay’s enigmatic stranger and psychotic killer.  With his blue eyes, sexy lips, and shapely figure, Clay possesses the kind of boy-man erotic appeal that the young Terence Stamp had shown in Pasolini Teorema.

Running time: 110 Minutes.


I am grateful to TCM for showing this rarely seen thriller on October 13, 2018, though, technically, the print is in very bad shape.