Night Visitor, The (1971): Laslo Benedek’s Swedish Psychological Thriller in English, Starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Trevor Howard

The Night Visitor, Laslo Benedek’s penultimate feature, is a verbose and undistinguished Swedish psychological thriller in English, despite its stellar cast of Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Trevor Howard.

Salem (Max von Sydow), an asylum inmate forced to take an insanity plea after being wrongly convicted of murdering his farmhand, escapes confinement from the asylum in the dead of winter. Driven insane from being institutionalized for the last years, Salem reaches his family farm, now run by younger sisters Emma and Ester (Liv Ullmann) and the latter’s husband Dr. Anton Jenks, who accused Salem of the murder.

Salem proceeds to murder those he deems responsible for his unfair conviction and confinement, starting with Emma. Salem also arranges it to appear that Anton is the killer. A local police inspector (Trevor Howard) begins to see foul play and resolves to uncover the truth of the murders and Salem’s conviction. However, Salem has barrister Mr. Clemens as his next target.

The bedridden Clemens calls Anton to his home and confronts him about certain inaccuracies during the trial. Anton leaves after giving Clemens a sedative, and Salem enters his lawyer’s room and kills him in his sleep with a lethal injection.

Salem then proceeds to the farm house where he acquires a fur coat, biding his time as Ester called the inspector, and he reveals that Anton murdered the farmhand when he caught him and Emma attempting to burn down the farm house which they couldn’t sell off because of Salem.

After the police leave, Ester is cornered and killed by Salem when she attempts to flee. Salem proceeds to wipe the blood on the doctor’s clothes before running back to the asylum. A broken Anton confesses his crime to the inspector as he hurries to the asylum.

Salem returns to his cell, but his alibi is ruined when the inspector finds the missing parrot from the farm house in Salem’s coat.


Max Von Sydow: Salem
Trevor Howard: Inspector
Liv Ullmann: Ester Jenks
Per Oscarsson: Anton Jenks
Rupert Davies: Mr. Clemens
Andrew Keir: Dr. Kemp
Jim Kennedy: Carl
Arthur Hewlett: Pop
Hanne Bork: Emmie

The film is notable for its unusual score by renowned Hollywood composer Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther). The music was arranged for synthesizer, 12 woodwinds, organ, two pianos and two harpsichords and Mancini achieved an unsettling effect by having one of the harpsichords tuned a quarter-tone flat.

The film was released theatrically in North America in 1971 by Universal Marion Corporation (UMC). It was re-released in 1981 under the title Lunatic.


I am grateful to TCM for showing this thriller on October 29, 2019.