Night Must Fall (1937 film)
Night Must Fall is a 1937 American film adaptation of the play by Emlyn Williams, adapted by John Van Druten and directed by Richard Thorpe. It stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell and Dame May Whitty in her Hollywood film debut at age 72. She reprised her role in the stage drama in London and New York City. A critical success, Night Must Fall was named the best film of the year by the National Board of Review.
|Night Must Fall|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Thorpe|
|Produced by||Hunt Stromberg|
|Screenplay by||John Van Druten|
|Based on||Night Must Fall|
by Emlyn Williams
|Music by||Edward Ward|
|Edited by||Robert Kern|
|Distributed by||Loew's Inc.|
|Box office||$1,015,000 (worldwide est.)|
Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) is an irascible elderly woman who holds court in a small English village. She pretends to need a wheelchair, and impulsively threatens to fire her maid, Dora (Merle Tottenham), for allegedly stealing a chicken and breaking china. Meanwhile, the household learns that the police have searched a nearby river looking for the missing Mrs. Shellbrook, a guest at the local hotel. Dora distracts Mrs. Bramson by mentioning her Irish boyfriend, Danny (Robert Montgomery), who works at that hotel. Danny comes by to visit Dora, who asks Mrs. Bramson to speak with him. Perceiving that Mrs. Bramson is a hypochondriac who only affects her need for a wheelchair, Danny is charming toward her and says that she reminds him of his mother. He tells Mrs. Bramson that he loves Dora and would marry her if he had a better job. Mrs. Bramson obliges, and he becomes her servant.
Mrs. Bramson's niece and companion, Olivia Grayne (Rosalind Russell), is suspicious of Danny, but Mrs. Bramson dismisses her concerns. When Mrs. Bramson's attorney, Justin Laurie (Alan Marshal), arrives to give his client money, he warns her not to keep so much cash in her possession; but she dismisses his concerns, as well. Meanwhile, Justin, who is in love with Olivia, asks her to marry him, but she refuses because their relationship lacks any true romance. Justin leaves, feeling dejected, and Danny sees Mrs. Bramson putting the cash into her safe. Olivia's fears are heightened when she catches Danny lying to Mrs. Bramson about a shawl that allegedly belonged to his mother: Olivia notices that the price tag is still on the shawl. Even so, Olivia cannot help being attracted to Danny.
Dora discovers Mrs. Shellbrook's decapitated body in the forest. Olivia accuses Danny of the murder, but he denies it. Again, Mrs. Bramson dismisses her niece's concerns because she has grown very fond of Danny. The rest of the household does not feel comfortable being in the house while a killer is at large, but Mrs. Bramson feels safe enough to stay with Danny. Later that night, Mrs. Bramson hears noises and becomes frightened. When she screams for Danny, he comes in and calms her down by giving her something to drink and trying to lull her to sleep. Then Danny to her shock and horror, suffocates her and empties the safe.
Olivia arrives, unexpectedly, as Danny is getting ready to pour kerosene all over the house. She admits to Danny that she was attracted to him in the past, but no longer— she has discovered her aunt, dead. He talks about his poor childhood and being looked down upon for being a servant, and threatens to kill her, too, so that no one can incriminate him in Mrs. Bramson's murder. Olivia says she will understand if he kills her, but she wants him to know that she is no longer drawn to him, because she sees who he really is. Just then the police arrive, called by Justin when he could not reach Olivia by phone, and they arrest Danny. As he leaves, Danny says, "I'll hang in the end, but they'll get their money's worth at the trial." At last, Justin and Olivia embrace.
- Robert Montgomery as Danny
- Rosalind Russell as Olivia Grayne
- Dame May Whitty as Mrs. Bramson
- Alan Marshal as Justin Laurie
- Merle Tottenham as Dora Parkoe, the maid
- Kathleen Harrison as Emily Terence, the cook
- Eily Malyon as Village Nurse
- Matthew Boulton as Inspector Belsize
- Beryl Mercer as Saleslady
- E. E. Clive as Tour Guide
Dame May Whitty, Kathleen Harrison, Merle Tuttenham and Matthew Boulton reprised the roles they originated in the London production. Whitty and Boulton also appeared in the Broadway production.
In an article on TCM.com, Margarita Landazuri reports that Montgomery saw the play in New York and “badgered” Louis B. Mayer into giving him the role. Apparently the studio was willing to risk a flop In order to get control over Montgomery and his desire for meatier roles. He recalled: “... they okayed my playing in it because they thought the fan reaction to me, in such a role, would humiliate me." The actor also agreed to pay part of the cost of the film.
The film was a critical but not a financial success. The New York Daily News said Robert Montgomery's performance "lifts the MGM actor out of the lower brackets, where he has slipped because of shoddy material, into an eminent position among the top-notchers of Hollywood players." The newspaper Variety proclaimed that "the appearance of Montgomery in a part which is the antithesis of his pattern may be art, but it's not box office." Louis B. Mayer personally supervised the making of a trailer which preceded the film, warning filmgoers of its "experimental nature."
Writing for Night and Day in 1937, Graham Greene gave the film a poor review, describing it as a "pretentious little murder play  made [into] a long dim film". Greene comments that the main problem with the film is that it is directed "like an early talky [...] no more than a photographed stage play".
The film grossed a total (domestic and foreign) of $1,015,000: $550,000 from the US and Canada and $465,000 elsewhere. It made a profit of $40,000.
A radio adaptation of Night Must Fall was presented on Philip Morris Playhouse October 24, 1941. Starring Burgess Meredith, Maureen O'Sullivan and Flora Robson, the program has not survived in radio collections.
- Night Must Fall at the American Film Institute Catalog
- "Night Must Fall (1937) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
- "Night Must Fall (1937) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
- "Night Must Fall". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
- Greene, Graham (8 July 1937). "Black Legion/Night Must Fall/Top of the Town/The Last Train from Madrid". Night and Day. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. p. 154. ISBN 0192812866.)
- "The Outstanding Films of 1937". National Board of Review Magazine. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. XIII (1): 3. January 1938. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- "Night Must Fall". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2014-02-07. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
- "Night Must Fall". DVD Beaver. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- "Night Must Fall". Warner Archive Collection. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- ""Playhouse" Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 18, 1941. p. 27. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Philip Morris Playhouse". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- "Suspense". RadioGOLDINdex. J. David Goldin. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- "Night Must Fall". The Screen Guild Theater. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- "Suspense". RadioGOLDINdex. J. David Goldin. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- "Night Must Fall". Suspense. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-08-01.