Based on a successful 1935 West End and Broadway play written by and starring EMLYN WILLIAMS, NIGHT MUST FALL was bought by MGM.
I don’t know if the studio ever considered allowing Emlyn Williams to repeat his starring role,but the part went to ROBERT MONTGOMERY who was eager to try something different.
The other leading role was played on stage by DAME MAY WHITTY and MGM decided she would not be replaced.
Smooth talking Danny (Montgomery) is a servant who worms his way into the affections of a rich old woman,Mrs Bramsen (WHITTY) who lives in an English village.
Mrs Bramsen is an invalid who is thoroughly nasty to everyone including her niece Olivia (ROSALIND RUSSELL) who lives with her.
Until Danny comes along,the only person who stands up to Mrs Bramsen is her cook,Mrs Terence (KATHLEEN HARRISON)
Although attracted to the always smiling Danny,Olivia quickly realises what he is like, “I think he is common,insolent and conceited and completely double faced.” And yet she too is drawn into his web.
Whereas, Mrs Bramsen is completely taken in, “I know human nature. I know that boy’s got a beautiful character.”
Both Dame May and Montgomery were Oscar-nominated and rightly so. Robert struggled with an unconvincing Welsh ( or Irish ) accent, but he was very convincing as this dark and complicated psychopath.
Rosalind Russell, at 24 wasn’t particularly well cast as the repressed niece – I was always aware she was putting on an English accent.
(It’s truly amazing to think how Rosalind sprung to life a few years later in THE WOMEN.)
I was surprised to see English character actress,KATHLEEN HARRISON – she had been in the English stage production. Unlike other English performers, Kathleen didnt stay in Hollywood – whether out of choice or not being offered a contract, I don’t know. She went on to a long career in British films and TV.
It doesn’t seem right that Rosalind Russell got top billing with Robert Montgomery ,her part being quite small compared to Dame May. It also seems a shame that for the rest of the 30s, Robert never got such a good role again.
(I’d like to see FAST AND LOOSE in which he was reunited with Rosalind in 1939.)
It’s always nice to see EILY MALYON as the nurse and BERYL MERCER as a shopkeeper. ALAN MARSHALL is the old lady’s doctor,in love with the niece.
NIGHT MUST FALL has a strong, complex plot written around two powerful characters and Dame May WHITTY and Robert Montgomery are excellent.BUT, under Richard Thorpe’s direction, some of the pace is grindingly slow and one is aware of the play origins.
Made in the 40s by a director like Hitchcock,it could have been a terrific thriller.