Sunday, November 1, 2009

Night Must Fall (1937)


When elderly Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) decides to hire the boyfriend of one of her servants, Danny (Robert Montogomery) she thinks she has found the perfect caretaker. Meanwhile her niece, and employee, Olivia (Rosalind Russell) is not so charmed by Danny, believing he may have something to do with the recent disappearance of a local woman.

Following Gaslight on TCM was the 1937 thriller Night Must Fall. A capable, and well respected 1930's thriller, that is part murder mystery, part analysis of how knowing a murderer affects the ones around them. Thorpe takes this approach very seriously, moving through the story step by step in order to ensure that he doesn't miss anything, and manages to hit all the notes necessary to make it work. This is the film's greatest strength and weakness. The movie is captivating but takes so long to get everywhere, the 30minute to 1 hour mark felt like it took forever. Though once some revelations are made and the characters begin to open up a bit I was sold.

Montgomery, Russell, and Whitty hold the film together throughout its slow moments, with a solid supporting cast who come and go as needed. The best thing about this is that each of the main characters is allowed to shine, and while we may not understand all their decisions there's a certain captivating quality to it all. Montgomery is unarguably the film's center piece, while Russell provides the complex moral counter to his personal struggles in daily life. This benefits the viewer as they can always find someone to attach to in each moment. While some of the more amusing side characters and plots are dumped along the way in favor of a more strict narrative there's a lot going for it.

The only real problem with the writing is it tends to be a bit speech oriented. What I mean by that is at random times during a conversation a character will drift on and deliver a heartfelt over the top speech and then return to the conversation as if nothing happened. I'm not sure if this is some way of letting the audience in to the subtext of the characters, but it doesn't always work so well. Perhaps the best thing the film has going for it is Thorpe. Working on so many projects at once allows Thorpe to be a strict script follower, really giving way to the dialogue and performances, relying heavily on the cast to carry the blunt force of the film. For so many scenes this works, it manages to counter the bad, and in turn create a very good dark vibe, perfect for a thriller.

While it's a very 30's film in terms of acting, scripting, and directing, Night Must Fall is a capable and thrilling film worth the time to view.

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