The Night Digger

The Night Digger is a 1971 British thriller film based on the novel Nest in a Fallen Tree by Joy Cowley about two women who are visited by a suspicious handy man.[1] It was adapted by Roald Dahl and starred his then wife Patricia Neal.[2] The Night Digger was the American title; it was originally released in the United Kingdom as The Road Builder.[3]

The Night Digger
original film poster
Directed byAlastair Reid
Produced byAlan D. Courtney
Screenplay byRoald Dahl
Based onNest in a Fallen Tree
by Joy Cowley
StarringPatricia Neal
Pamela Brown
Nicholas Clay
Jean Anderson
Christopher Reynalds
Peter Sallis
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyAlex Thomson
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 12 May 1971 (1971-05-12) (U.S.)
Running time
110 min
CountryUnited Kingdom


In a decaying mansion on the outskirts of London, middle-aged spinster Maura Prince (Patricia Neal) lives a life of drudgery caring for her blind and domineering mother (Pamela Brown). Into their dysfunctional lives, a handsome stranger appears, riding on a motorbike and looking for work as a handyman. Young Billy Jarvis (Nicholas Clay) soon makes himself indispensable around the house, but his angelic features mask dysfunctions that threaten both women's lives.


Critical reception

In a contemporary review, The New York Times wrote "It begs for empathy for its tortured principals, but despite the clearly dedicated contributions of Patricia Neal, Roald Dahl, her scenarist-husband; Pamela Brown and a young newcomer, Nicholas Clay, the strain on credibility is a good deal more notable than the impact on the emotions";[4] while more recently, a reviewer for DVD Talk wrote "The Night Digger doesn't carry much of a reputation, but I found it highly unusual, and more than satisfying".[5] Cinema Retro called it "an underrated gem";[6] and the Radio Times concluded "director Alastair Reid's neo-Grand Guignol chamber piece exudes a peculiar fascination".[7]


Further reading

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