Cast & Crew
Dame May Whitty
In a small English village, the police drag the river, searching for the body of Mrs. Shellbrook, who has been missing for several days. Meanwhile, at the home of Mrs. Bramson, a churlish, elderly woman who pretends to need a wheelchair, the maid Dora tells her mistress that her Irish boyfriend, Danny, works for Mrs. Shellbrook. Danny, who knows that Mrs. Bramson is a hypochondriac and only pretends to need a wheelchair, is very solicitous toward her. He tells her that she reminds him of his mother, then says that he loves Dora and would marry her if he had a better job. Mrs. Bramson's niece and companion, Olivia Grayne, is suspicious of Danny, but Mrs. Bramson stubbornly refuses to listen to her. Soon Mrs. Bramson's attorney, Justin Laurie, arrives to give Mrs. Bramson some money, and warns her not to keep much cash around the cottage, but she is unconcerned. Meanwhile, Justin, who is in love with Olivia, asks her to marry him, but she refuses because she yearns for something "romantic" to happen. After Justin leaves, Mrs. Bramson puts money into her safe and is secretly observed by Danny. A short time later, Danny purchases a scarf in the village and gives it to Mrs. Bramson, saying that it belonged to his mother. Olivia, who sees the price tag on the scarf, says nothing as she and Danny secretly eye each other, acknowledging their mutual attraction. Soon Dora discovers Mrs. Shellbrook's decapitated body. Though Olivia accuses Danny of the murder, he denies it and says that he merely fantasizes and pretends to be mysterious. Though she is still fascinated by him, Olivia is now certain that Danny is the murderer. Mrs. Bramson dismisses her niece's accusations because she has grown very found of the attentive Danny. When police inspector Belsize comes, he searches Danny's room and find a large, locked hatbox. He is just about to open it when Olivia impulsively grabs the box and says that it is hers. After Belsize leaves, Danny faints, and at dinner that night both he and Olivia are ill at ease. Olivia soon calls Justin and asks if she can stay with him, then begs Mrs. Bramson to come along, but she refuses. Even when the maids also leave the cottage, Mrs. Bramson feels safe enough to stay while Danny, who has cut the telephone wires, walks the maids part way to the village. Alone in her drawing room, 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 lulling her to sleep. Then, when he is certain that she is asleep, he starts to smother her. She begins to wake up, but it is too late, and Danny kills her. He then robs the safe, after which Olivia returns and sees what has happened. She admits that she was attracted to him, but says that that is over. He threatens to kill her, too, to cover up his crimes, but just then the police, who were called by Justin when he could not reach Olivia by phone, arrive and arrest Danny. As he leaves, Danny says "I'll hang in the end, but they'll get their money's worth worth at the trial." Finally, as Danny is taken away, Justin and Olivia embrace.
Dame May Whitty
E. E. Clive
Robert J. Kern
John Van Druten
Edwin B. Willis
Best Supporting Actress
Night Must Fall (1937)
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 in 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.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay: John Van Druten, based on the play by Emlyn Williams
Cinematography: Ray June
Editor: Robert J. Kern
Costume Design: Dolly Tree
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Principal Cast: Robert Montgomery (Danny), Rosalind Russell (Olivia), Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Bramson), Alan Marshal (Justin), Merle Tottenham (Dora), Kathleen Harrison (Mrs. Terence), Matthew Boulton (Belsize).
BW-116m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Night Must Fall (1937)
Dame May Whitty, Kathleen Harrison and Matthew Boulton played the same roles in the play when it first opened in London on 31 May 1935. Author Emlyn Williams directed and also played Danny. Whitty and Boulton reprised their roles for the 1936 New York production.
The opening credits read: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in the Astonishing London and New York Stage Success Night Must Fall." The names of actors Dame May Whitty, Alan Marshall, Merle Tuttenham and Kathleen Harrison appear after the title, however, in the cast and character credits, the actors are listed in the order of their appearance. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Charles Bickford was at one time sought for a loanout from Paramount for the film for the role of Danny. According to other Hollywood Reporter news items, portions of the film were shot on location in Sherwood Forest and Redondo Beach, CA. The Redondo Beach location, which one news item noted utilized the services of its "entire costermonger [street vendor] colony," was apparently cut from the film before its preview. A carnival sequence, which May also have been shot in Redondo Beach and required 350 extras, was also cut from the film. Whitty, Tuttenham, Harrison and and Matthew Boulton all appeared in the London version of the play in which author Emlyn Williams played "Danny." Whitty and Boulton also appeared in the 1936 Broadway production with Williams. Whitty received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film. Montgomery was also nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Actor. Other adaptations of Williams' play include a 1964 British film directed by Karel Reisz starring Albert Finney and Mona Washbourne and a 1956 NBC Television play.
Released in United States 1937
Released in United States 1978
Released in United States 1937
Released in United States 1978 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - Treasures From the Museum of Modern Art Film Archives) April 13 - May 7, 1978.)