A GLIPSE INTO THE MAKING OF: Night of the Eagle

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JULY 1961

(i) The first day of action takes place on the set at Beaconsfield Studios and involves PETER, in the role of Professor Norman Taylor, being pursued down the corridors of Hempnell College by an enormous eagle, which is seen towards the end of the film.

During the scene, PETER is required to hurl various items in the direction of the giant bird, which will be superimposed onto the film in Post Production. As a precaution, Cinematographer, Reg Wyre, suggests that the Director might consider placing a piece of Perspex in front of the camera in case PETER were to accidently hit the lens.

However Director, Sidney Hayers, dismisses the idea, saying: “He’s as much chance of hitting the lens as I have hitting the moon!”

As the camera starts rolling, and PETER begins screaming and hurling objects around the room, a bottle flies out of his hand and straight into the camera lens – shattering it into an infinite number of pieces.

Trust PETER to prove the boss wrong!

 (ii) American actress, Janet Blair, arrives on set at her usual time of 9.30am. She’s to feature in a scene with PETER and Margaret Johnson, who plays the evil College Principal, Flora Carr.

The sequence focuses on Flora as she attacks the defenceless Tansy, who is confined to bed. Thankfully, her husband, Norman, arrives home in the nick of time, and succeeds in rescuing his wife from the clutches of the wicked crone.

CUT-SCENE

A rare still from the scene that was cut from the finished film ⇒

Sadly, this particular scene was cut from the European version of the film, but it did survive in the American release, which has the alternate title, ‘Burn, Witch, Burn’. (Please see a still which was taken during the sequence below).

(iii) It is 7.30am, and the cast and crew have boarded a bus which is heading to Taplow in Buckinghamshire, which is to double as the village of Hempnell.

The main shot of the day will involve PETER crossing a narrow road near his fictional home, as he makes his way to the college after what had proved to be an eventful weekend.

The scene calls for PETER to step out into the road just as a large van comes into view around a sharp bend, and almost hits the visibly shaken Professor.

Sidney Hayers discusses the sequence with PETER – advising that he would prefer to use a stunt double. But when PETER insists on doing his own stunts wherever possible, Hayers decides to shoot the piece in close-up as opposed to the original long-shot. A short debate is had between PETER, Hayers and the Stunt Coordinator, during which PETER is assured that he will be perfectly safe.

(It should be noted at this point that it was Hayers’ who was certain that PETER wouldn’t hit the camera lens with a projectile in an earlier scene, only to have been proved disastrously wrong!)

To be on the safe side, Hayers orders a dummy run in order to ensure the safety of his leading man, but as the time of the actual ‘Take’ draws ever closer, the Stunt Coordinator begins to show increasing signs of doubt.

As Hayers calls for order on the set, PETER takes up his position on the pavement on the opposite side of the road to the College entrance. Right on cue, the van rounds the bend, but as PETER steps out, the HGV passes much closer than had originally been expected, and clips PETER. Thankfully, a quick check by on-set medical staff confirms that he hasn’t been badly injured, and he’s given the all clear to carry on.

(iv) Director Hayers appears to have chosen the coldest day of the year to take the cast and crew to a Cornish beach, where several crucial scenes are to be shot

PETER is put through his paces high up on a steep cliff face, where he’s instructed by Hayers to both climb and descend some dangerous-looking rocks, over and over again until the Director is happy with the ‘Take’. A longshot is then added of PETER running along a deserted stretch of beach in broad daylight, that was later given the effect of being filmed around midnight.

Meanwhile, PETER’s co-star, Janet Blair, concludes her scenes on the beach, where she’s sprayed with water as she’s seen to be walking from the waves. Once the Director is happy with the shot, Ms Blair is brought dry clothes and is allowed to change into them.

(v) For particular sequences in the film, Sidney Hayers chose to use a 9mm lens to show the action from Janet Blair’s dazed point of view. During the early Sixties, the zoom lens was hardly ever used in film-making, and so Night of the Eagle became a forerunner for the particular technique.

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One of the scenes where this method was used was during the sequence at the cliff-top cottage, where Tansy is coming out of her trance. She opens her eyes to find PETER and a doctor looking down at her. Hayers said that he’d used the method to distort the two men’s faces – i.e. to elongate their noses, giving them the look of an eagle.

PETER, however, didn’t share Hayers’ view of the shots, and was none too pleased with the result. When he eventually saw the ‘Rushes’ of that day’s filming, he apparently yelled: “Sidney, you’re not going to use that! For God’s sake!” He did!


The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

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