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   NIGHT MUST FALL (1937) 

CAST
Robert Montgomery
Rosalind Russell
Dame May Whitty
Alan Marshall
Merle Tottenham
Kathleen Harrison
Matthew Boulton

DIRECTED BY
Richard Thorpe

PURCHASE


Video




Time: 116 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Thriller

Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Montgomery) and Best Supporting Actress (Whitty).


This is one of those films that must have been entrancing as a stage play, yet is terribly staid and somewhat boring when converted to the screen. While Montgomery pulls out all the stops, making his character both charming and creepy, the film never delivers on its' suspenseful set-up – that of a murderer coming home to roost. There's never any doubt that Danny is up to no good. One is merely left wondering how bad he's going to be. Well, not wondering exactly, it's more like waiting. The film opens in the country cottage of Mrs. Bramson (Whitty), an elderly invalid who's a far cry from helpless. Her imposing attitude makes the lives of her staff and niece Olivia (Russell) far from pleasant, despite the bucolic nature of their surroundings. The suspected murder of a local woman adds some spice to their quiet lives and brings a touch of uneasiness to their isolation. A domestic squabble delivers Danny to their doorstep and he takes full advantage of the situation.

His attempts to finagle his way into their existence charm the pants off of the old lady, but fail to fool Olivia. She may be just another unfortunate soul dependant on her aunt's money and good graces; however, she's not an idiot. She doesn't trust Danny's sweet-talking, deferential act for a minute, but is secretly thankful to have him take over some of the endless and thankless tasks she's been forced to perform. Though she tries to deny it, he's even able to breach her cold and condescending exterior. She's attracted to the danger brimming underneath his calm demeanor, both fearing and hoping he's the killer everyone's been looking for. Her suspicions frighten her, but she can't seem to escape his web. That Danny's going to kill her aunt, and possibly her as well, is a fate she can't alter. Every moment is alive with the possibility that it may be her last. It's hard to believe that she would place herself in mortal danger merely to prove her hunch right, but her behavior is far from the craziest thing anyone's ever done in a suspense film. She's not very believable as a damsel in distress, but she captures Olivia's indecision and yearning well enough.


"That's the kind of fella I am. I make my mind up about something and then I do it."

Though we know from the first frame where this story is going, the sequence where Danny betrays his prey (Mrs. Bramson) is frightfully powerful thanks to proper staging and great acting. The old lady is the only one who never saw it coming and Whitty gives her just the right touch of horror, disappointment and resignation as her life is brutally snuffed out. The dirty deed brings Danny's arrogance and insanity out in full force. It never occurs to him that his plans to escape to the good life are going to fail. His final diatribe teems with raging bitterness, delusions of grandeur and not a stitch of repentance. You know he's a cold-blooded killer and yet Montgomery almost convinces you what he did was for the best, that he's a decent fellow beaten down by life merely fighting back. His capture is only surprising to him and far from exciting, leaving one little satisfaction at the end of the day. Montgomery's multi-layered performance is the backbone of this film, giving it energy and a sense of danger the overall story lacks. Danny's transformation may be expected, but it's chilling nonetheless and the main reason to seek this film out. Good acting overcomes the so-so script, providing an entertaining, if not exactly memorable, cinema experience.



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