Let's Kill Uncle
Let's Kill Uncle, also known as Let's Kill Uncle Before Uncle Kills Us is a 1966 color thriller film produced and directed by William Castle about a young boy who is trapped on an island by his uncle who is planning to kill him. His only friend is a young girl who tries to help him. It stars Nigel Green, Mary Badham, Pat Cardi and Robert Pickering. It is based on a 1963 novel written by Rohan O'Grady, the nom de plume of Canadian authoress June Margaret O'Grady Skinner. It was filmed in Universal Studios on the largest sound stage taking advantage of the process screen with a location shot of a beach in Malibu, California.
|Let's Kill Uncle|
|Directed by||William Castle|
|Produced by||William Castle|
|Written by||Rohan O'Grady|
|Music by||Herman Stein|
|Edited by||Edwin H. Bryant|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Following the death of multi millionaire Russell Harrison (a cameo by William Castle) in a car crash, his $5 million estate falls to his only child, 15 year old Barnaby Harrison who will receive the money when reaching his age of majority. In the meantime Barnaby will live with his uncle Kevin who resides on a remote sparsely populated island eight miles from the mainland. During World War II Major Kevin Harrison was a James Bond type British Army Intelligence Commando who has published an account of his war exploits entitled Killing the Enemy; his book detailing his multiple accounts of extreme close combat killing of various Germans.
Barnaby is escorted by Police Detective Sergeant Frank Travis on the cruise to the island. Aboard the boat is Chrissie who is Barnaby's age. The two children constantly argue and fight with Chrissie believing Barnaby is telling fantastic lies about his uncle's exploits though Frank does reveal himself as really being a policeman to her. Chrissie has come from a broken home and will be living with her Aunt Justine who lives on Uncle Kevin's island.
Barnaby's bad behaviour continues on the island with Frank chastising him for playing with his detective revolver, Barnaby leading Christine astray by visiting a dangerous decrepit hotel and Barnaby keeping up a constant litany of tall tales to impress or frighten Chrissie. Barnaby however, worships his heroic Uncle Kevin and enjoys reading his book. One night Uncle Kevin, dressed in his wartime military beret and battledress (as he does on the cover of his book) visits a sleeping Barnaby to wake him up to go on an adventure with him. Leading Barnaby to high cliffs overlooking the crashing surf, Uncle Kevin hypnotises Barnaby to walk in specific directions with the aim of having Barnaby fall off the cliff to his death whilst Kevin is home in his bed. The next day Justine sees Barnaby perilously close to the edge of a high cliff and shouts at him, waking him out of his trance.
A shaken Barnaby believes that he was walking in his sleep until alone with his uncle, Uncle Kevin jovially explains that he intends to kill Barnaby for his inheritance. Though his first attempt at eliminating him in a manner to appear accidental failed, he shall try, try again. Kevin also explains that his home is "Switzerland" an area of neutrality where he will not harm Barnaby, nor will he harm him when he is with Justine or Sgt Travis who still remains on the island as Uncle Kevin's guest.
Based on Barnaby's previous lies and hysterical behaviour no one believes him until Chrissie discovers the truth and gleefully suggests they kill Uncle Kevin first. The trio begin a series of cat and mouse assassination attempts against each other. When Uncle Kevin discovers that Chrissie stole Sgt Travis's revolver and came up with an unsuccessful assassination attempt Kevin includes her in his game.
The film was William Castle's third and final film for Universal Pictures with Castle purchasing the film rights for the novel soon after its 1963 publication. Universal's casting director John Badham cast his younger sister Mary who had gained acclaim in the role of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). He also chose Pat Cardi who had recently appeared in Universal's And Now Miguel; Badham and Castle picked Cardi over James Mason's son and Stanley Livingston then co-starring on My Three Sons, Nigel Green had recently co-starred in The Ipcress File (1965) released by Universal; Let's Kill Uncle was Greeen's first lead role. Nestor Paiva was suffering from stomach cancer during the production and died in the year the film was released.
During the filming Castle had wanted Barnaby to inherit $20 million ($10 million in the novel). Universal insisted on $5 million; when Castle objected MCA Universal head Lew Wasserman came to see Castle himself telling Castle "For $20 million I'd kill the kid myself".
Cardi recalled that Nigel Green acted as a real life friendly uncle to him on the set, giving him tips on performing. Cardi admitted that the tarantulas frightened him, so during rehearsals plastic spiders were used, even though the spider wrangler and William Castle told him the real spider had been de fanged and was harmless. When shooting the actual scenes, the real tarantula was present with Castle asking Cardi "wouldn't it be fun to drop it on Nigel's chest?" Green was unenthusiastic until Castle told him that Sean Connery had a real tarantula walk on his chest in Dr. No (1962). Green shouted "If it's good enough for Connery, it's good enough for me!" and did the scene without complaint; no one telling him that Connery had a tarantula walking over a glass pane rather than being on his naked skin.
The New York Times was unreceptive to the film, writing, "Say this for Let's Kill Uncle. It's the least bad chiller ever made by William Castle [...] [who's] paced the film like molasses."
- Jordan, Joe Showmanship: The Cinema of William CastleBearManor Media
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