NIGHT MUST FALL (1937) B/W 117m dir: Richard Thorpe
w/Robert Montgomery Rosalind Russell, Dame May Whitty, Alan Marshall, Merle Tottenham, Kathleen Harrison, Matthew Boulton, Eily Malyon, E.E. Clive, Beryl Mercer, Winifred Harris
From The Movie Guide: "Due primarily to an amazing performance by Robert Montgomery, this superb, nerve-tingling thriller improves on Emlyn Williams's already shocking stage hit. Whitty is a fussy, domineering grande dame living in a cottage in Essex, England, with niece Russell and several cowed servants. Just after Russell and Whitty hear that a 'very flashy' woman guest in a nearby inn has vanished, Montgomery appears, claiming that he has been working as a page boy at the inn but is now looking for a new job. Montgomery brings with him a heavy hatbox that he places in a closet after being hired as a handyman by the wheelchair-bound Whitty. He waits hand and foot upon her, flattering Whitty at every opportunity, but exchanges barbs with Russell, who distrusts him. When asked about the missing woman, Montgomery describes her in chilling detail, revealing his psychopathic personality and further arousing Russell's suspicion.
"NIGHT MUST FALL is directed with great care by Richard Thorpe, who evokes every bit of suspense intended by playwright Williams (who played the role of the killer on stage, though not nearly as subtly as Montgomery does). Producer Hunt Stromberg saw the play in London and insisted on making it into a film. Although MGM boss Louis B. Mayer thought it was an awful idea, he reluctantly agreed to allow Stromberg, his most successful producer, to undertake the project. Mayer was outraged when Stromberg cast Montgomery, the popular star of frothy MGM comedies, in the role of the killer, but the critical and popular success of the film proved him wrong. The film was remade by the studio nearly 20 years later, starring Albert Finney, Susan Hampshire, and Mona Washbourne, but the remake lacked the tautness and dramatic impact of the original."
The following contains information you may not want to know before viewing the film for the first time:
From the Turner Classic Movies website (www.tcm.com), this article about the film by Margarita Landazuri:
"Handsome, debonair, and stage-trained, Robert Montgomery entered films at the dawn of the sound era, and instantly became one of MGM's most popular leading men. He excelled at breezy sophisticated comedy, and co-starred with the studio's top female stars, Shearer, Crawford, and Garbo. But Montgomery soon tired of being typecast, and by the mid-1930's was constantly battling with studio bosses to be allowed to play more challenging roles.
"Montgomery had seen Welsh-born writer and actor Emlyn Williams' play, Night Must Fall (1936) in New York, starring Williams himself as the psychopathic killer who carries his latest victim's head in a hatbox. When Montgomery returned to Hollywood, as columnist Ed Sullivan wrote, 'Robert Montgomery, cocktail-shaking smarty of films, rebelled and asked to be assigned to Night Must Fall.' Tired of the constant badgering and convinced that a failure would cure Montgomery's ambitions, production chief Louis B. Mayer agreed to let the actor star in the film version of Night Must Fall (1937). As Montgomery recalled, 'they okayed my playing in it because they thought the fan reaction to me, in such a role, would humiliate me.' Montgomery also put his money where his mouth was --- he agreed to subsidize part of the cost of the film.
"Rosalind Russell was still in the early stages of her career, but she, too, was already being typecast in vapid society-girl roles. She had already appeared in several films with Montgomery, and knew they played well together. The spinsterish, conflicted niece in Night Must Fall offered a part with some substance and subtlety, and Russell was happy to play the role. She would make a total of five films with Montgomery.
"Repeating her stage success as the crotchety old woman charmed by the killer was 72-year old British stage actress Dame May Whitty. Although she had appeared occasionally in silent films, Night Must Fall was Whitty's talking film debut. She received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance, but Alice Brady won for In Old Chicago.
"Emlyn Williams had used his own Welsh accent, with a touch of Cockney, in his stage performance. Montgomery found that too difficult, and in the film version of Night Must Fall he attempted, not always successfully, a slight Irish lilt. It was the one weakness in a mesmerizing portrayal which had the critics cheering. The New York Daily News said the film '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. Variety, however, was more practical. '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 agreed. On the night of Night Must Fall's Hollywood premiere, the studio passed out flyers disclaiming the film. Mayer also personally supervised the making of a trailer which preceded the film, also warning filmgoers of its 'experimental nature.'
'Night Must Fall was a critical, if not financial success. Robert Montgomery was nominated for an Academy Award, but MGM did little to support the film's Oscar chances. Spencer Tracy won the award for Captains Courageous (1937). Montgomery went back to romantic comedies, but he was becoming increasingly independent. He kept fighting for, and occasionally winning, more varied roles. As one of the founders and a four-term president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he helped expose racketeering in the film industry. He was one of the first film stars to get involved in television, and enjoyed a long career in the medium as a producer, director and actor --- calling his own shots."
NIGHT MUST FALL was nominated for two Oscars: Best Actor (Montgomery) and Supporting Actress (Whitty).