Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall is based on the play by Emlyn Williams, directed by Richard Thorpe, produced by Hunt Stromberg, and stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Dame May Whitty, Alan Marshal, Merle Tottenham, and Kathleen Harrison, with a brief appearance by E.E. Clive.

The film takes place in the English countryside at the cottage of a somewhat wealthy old woman named Mrs. Bramson (Whitty), an invalid who lives there with her niece Olivia (Russell) who also happens to be employed by the dowager.  For some reason Bramson is cranky and verbally abusive towards Olivia.  So of course Olivia resents the old woman's attitude and feels trapped and bored with her position so she acts less than kindly towards her. 

As the story begins police and some of the townsfolk are executing a search for a missing local woman.  It's a small community so word of the disappearance as well as gossip about the woman travels quickly.

Mrs. Bramson discovers that someone has attempted to hide some pieces of broken china in one of her flowerbeds.  She soon realizes that it was her maid Dora (Tottenham) that was responsible and confronts her about it.  The maid explains that she hasn't been herself since meeting her new boyfriend, who she plans to marry but can't get him to actually commit to a date.  Dora asks Bramson if she could speak to him on her behalf and the old woman acknowledges that she'll " deal with him ".

At this point we meet Danny (Montgomery) or "Babyface" as the girls like to call him.  Much to Olivia's dismay Danny spins a few tales and charms the old woman into giving him a job as her companion, she even allows him live in the cottage.  Olivia immediately becomes suspicious of Danny when the missing woman's body turns up (with the head missing) and Danny moves into the cottage with his luggage, one piece of which is a large hatbox. 

The rest of the film is very suspenseful as Danny waits for an opportunity to gain access to the old woman's safe and steal her money, and Olivia is first repulsed by, then finds herself becoming strangely attracted to the charming rogue.  All the while trying to determine whether he is responsible for, or even capable of committing the recent murder.  Time after time our attention is drawn back to the mysterious hatbox and its possible grisly contents.

Great acting by all the stars makes this a really fun film to watch.  As I'm writing this I'm discovering that I'm a bigger Robert Montgomery fan than I realized.  If I notice his name in the credits of a film, I'll watch it even if it's not one of my favorite genres knowing that he's going to do a great job, he always does.  Montgomery was actually nominated for the Academy Award for "Best Actor" for his performance, and Whitty was nominated for "Best Supporting Actress".  Both actors do an outstanding job, and Russell's gradual transformation from mild-mannered to sizzling is fantastic.
Montgomery is very convincing as the smooth-talking, disturbed, pathological liar Danny and as the story progresses we discover more and more about the character's background.  I felt kind of bad for Olivia as she slowly but surely gets lured out of her shell by Danny's charm and almost poetic ramblings and finds herself drifting away from her boring, rich boyfriend Justin (Marshal) towards Danny even though she's knows how potentially dangerous he is.  She just seems to be totally bored with her life as it is and just craves some excitement. There's a great scene that takes place in the kitchen when the two happen to meet up in the middle of the night. You can feel the chemistry between the two characters and the scene will bring you to the edge of your seat.

Whitty dominates every scene that she's in.  The ending is almost unbearable when she finds herself alone and vulnerable after seemingly having total control over everyone for the majority of the film.  There's also some pretty good dark humor courtesy of the cook (Harrison) that helps to lighten up the mood a bit now and then.  The sets are very nicely designed and very detailed, especially the rooms in the cottage where most of the film takes place.

If you're a Hitchcock fan you'll probably enjoy this film.  There's not much action. but there are extra helpings of tension and suspense to go around.


  1. I have read that Richard Thorpe felt overwhelmed by the material and Robert Montgomery (uncredited) took over most of of the directing chores. I think that's quite an accomplishment considering he also pulled off one of the finest performances of a psychopath ever put on film. Three cheers for Montgomery!

    1. CW -
      I didn't know about that. If anyone could pull off the double duty of directing and starring it would be Montgomery. He was a very talented individual ...

  2. Ah, to remember Rosalind so young and in such a dramatic role. This is the last film I think of when I hear her name, but it is one of her finest performances. Overall, the story is tremendous and everyone does a great job with their part. Nice choice.

    1. That's funny ... When I think of Rosalind Russell I always thought of "His Girl Friday" (1940). Now I have another great movie memory of a great actress ...

  3. Replies
    1. Jacqueline -
      It is a great cast, everyone does a superb job. Individually they're all very talented folks and when pulled together they make a great team ...

  4. I've seen the Albert Finney version,which I didn't care for too much. This one sounds much better. I'll be on the lookout for it.

    1. Kevin -
      I don't think I've seen the Albert Finney version. I'll have to keep an eye out for it. This version is really good, the whole cast does a great job ...