NIGHT MUST FALL
Skilfully using Robert Montgomerys performance, director Richard Thorpe builds the film to a remarkable tension. Like the scene where Montgomery sits whistling as Rosalind Russell suddenly remembers how the killer was heard whistling in the woods. In another scene, Montgomery stands by the fire confronting Russell no violence is present in the scene but an enormous amount of inherent threat is generated by simply having him whittle at a piece of firewood as he talks. Quite a degree of sexual tension is generated too although as had to be the case for the era of the Hays Code, nothing could ever be implicit but the scene where Robert Montgomery confronts Rosalind Russell in the kitchen, saying he knows she returned because she wants adventure is one moment that comes close. Rosalind Russells performance, a study in guarded suspicion, is one that is almost as good as Montgomerys. The suspense is often undercut by a sense of humour in the canny observations from the shrewd provincial characterisations of the servants, or like where the tour-guide turns up offering guided tours of the murder site, even lines like Theyll never find her, which immediately cuts to a scream outside the window as the body is found.
The films psychological portrait in seeing Robert Montgomery starting to crack under the weight of the guilt he carries adds a particularly interesting dimension. However, it is after this point that the film seems to falter somewhat, giving some of the characters particularly ill-motivated actions Olivia, for example, takes the hatbox back from the inspector when keeping it would surely be the crowning achievement in her psychological battle to prove Danny guilty, and for no apparent reason she hands it back to Danny unopened too. (At this point the film could have branched out into a real cat-and-mouse game). Equally, the police inspector turns up with evidence that Danny was not only seen with the missing woman but absent from his room on the night of the murder but lets him go after Danny offers a nominal lie to explain it away.
This is a film that would benefit enormously from a modern remake. It was remade, but not very well as Night Must Fall (1964) by director Karel Reisz with Albert Finney as Danny and Mona Washbourne as Mrs Bramson. A modern remake would readapt the play for the 1990s, allowing the sexual tensions their natural reign and cutting out the woolly-headed motivations that the films period allowed it to get away with.
Director Richard Thorpe had a career that lasted from the silent era during the 1920s to the 1960s. He made a number of classic films including The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Knights of the Round Table (1953), Jailhouse Rock (1957), amid a great many B Westerns. In genre material, Thrope also made the mad scientist film Murder at Dawn (1932) and directed a number of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films with Tarzan Escapes (1936), Tarzan Finds a Son (1939), Tarzans Secret Treasure (1941) and Tarzans New York Adventure (1942). he was also one of the original directors assigned to The Wizard of Oz (1939) but ended up being replaced.