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Crotchety old Mrs. Bransom hires a charming young man named Danny as a live-in companion. Less charmed by Danny is Mrs. Bransom's niece, Olivia, a repressed young woman who suspects Danny of foul play. When news of a local murder is revealed, Olivia suspects Danny. Although repulsed by the thought he may have committed the crime, Olivia also finds herself becoming increasingly attracted to him at the same time. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
Madge Evans wanted the main female part but Rosalind Russell was preferred. See more »
In Mrs. Bramson's bedroom, Danny tucks in Mrs. Bramson and leaves, closing the bedroom door with an audible click. The next scene shows Danny outside the bedroom again closing the still-open door. See more »
That's the kind of fella I am. I make my mind up about something and then I do it.
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The main title reads "The astonishing London and New York stage success 'Night Must Fall' ". See more »
Following a grisly murder, a pushy stranger worms his way into a rich, old lady's remote household, much to disapproval of her uptight secretary.
What a good touch when Danny (Montgomery) roughly shoves the house cat and then smilingly tells Mrs. Bramson (Witty) how much he likes the little four-footed crittersa neat introduction to his devious nature. I wish the rest of the movie were this well executed. Aside from being overlong and too talky as other reviewers point out, (some silent mood scenes are badly needed), there's a big hole in the middle that's been generally overlooked. Surprisingly, it concerns that otherwise excellent actress Rosalind Russell.
Key to the plot is the highly refined, severely repressed Olivia's (Russell) conflict over Danny. She's both attracted and repelled by him. He's such a low, boisterous type, it's hard to see her attraction to him at any level. But the script has wisely prepared us with her attraction to dark, woodsy things. Now, the movie's key scene is in the kitchen where Danny boldly confronts Olivia's repressed attraction. To this point, Olivia has had only one outward emotion, namely an emotionless expression consonant with her inner discipline and station in the household. Danny's aim is to force from her an acknowledgment of what he knows she feels even though she won't admit it even to herself.
Crucial to this pivotal scene is that actress Russell convey even the slightest expression of the inner conflict she is now experiencing conflict we know she's experiencing from the dialog. But try as I have, I can't spot a single change of expression. She's grudgingly okaying the words, but without the necessary conflicted behavior. In short, her words say one thing, her manner another. Thus, we're not drawn into her conflict, we merely observe it in the dialog. And crucially-- instead of becoming active participants in the story, we're encouraged to remain passive observers.
In terms of story development, the role of Olivia becomes unconvincing, especially since the deadpan continues for the rest of the film. It's especially implausible when the plot has her hide the severed head in order to save Danny from the law. As a result, her motivations from the kitchen scene on ring hollow, thereby undercutting her pivotal role in the movie as a whole. It wouldn't be accurate to say that Russell therefore walks through the part in uninterested fashion. Rather, I'm inclined to blame director Thorpe for not providing the proper cues, especially in that key kitchen scene.
At the same time, I wish Montgomery's Danny were not so extreme, bordering at times on the clownish. For a usually restrained actor, it's a real departure, robbing his character of any hint of needed menace. Still and all, the idea of Danny's acting out for the benefit of his "double" the one that emerges in the mirror scene at the end-- remains a provocative one.
Where Danny's blustery, overdone charm really works is with tyrannical old Mrs. Bramson. His is just the kind of overriding personality that would melt her icy reserve. At the same time, Witty steals the film with a rock solid performance, especially during that exhausting breakdown scene that even had me gasping for breath. I also like that morbid sight-seeing tour with E. E. Clive as the guide. That people would pay to see a gravesite suggests to me the basic gentility of small town England for whom murder is such an unusual and curious event.
I gather from IMDb that studio head L. B. Mayer didn't like the results and didn't want to release the film. Whatever the failings, It's far from being that bad. Ironically, it appears that had Mayer himself wanted to do justice to the material, he would have assigned a top studio director instead of the thoroughly mediocre Thorpe (check out his credits). In fact, the movie as a whole suffers from uninspired direction, its rich atmospheric potential left visually untapped. As far as I can tell, Thorpe simply filmed the script that was handed him and nothing more. After all, his reputation with the studio rested on efficiency, i.e. bringing projects in under budget.
I just wish someone like Hitchcock had gotten hold of the material first. With its rich potential for nuance and atmosphere, a gifted psychologist like Hitch could have made something really memorable. Unfortunately, as the movie stands, it's a long way from that point.
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