Friday, May 21, 2010
Night Must Fall (1937) Richard Thorpe
This is my favorite Robert Montgomery movie and one of his best. His character Danny/Baby Face suddenly appears in Dame May Whitty’s little cottage as the boyfriend of the maid. You know he’s clever but is he truly good or devilishly evil? Everyone in the house falls on either side of this question, with Rosalind Russell moving back and forth. Montgomery himself moves effortlessly and quickly between the dark and the light.
The household consists of the aforementioned crochety (really much worse), hypochondriac, Whitty, her niece, Russell, Merle Tottenham as the maid, the cook played by Kathleen Harrison, and Eily Malyon as the village nurse. Handsome Alan Marshal is Whitty’s lawyer and Russell’s wannabe boyfriend.
The stage is set and the play slowly unfolds. Watch when Montgomery moves into the house and asks the maid, his girlfriend, to help him with his bags. She walks in front of him carrying two large suitcases, and he practically skips past Russell, carrying nothing but a hat box. Also, later in the movie, Montgomery and Russell are in the kitchen at night in a great scene together (“You’re not frightened, you’re excited!”). Whitty is incredible in her scene when she’s left alone in her cottage, as is Montgomery in the mirror at the end.
Sets and art direction (Cedric Gibbons) are superb and the entire film is very atmospheric (cinematography by Ray June). Musical scoring is light but effective. This understated thriller has clever dialogue and is well-paced by the director. Both Whitty and Montgomery received deserving Oscar nominations for their roles (they were beat by Alice Brady and Spencer Tracy). And it’s interesting to see Russell in such a subdued role, which she performs wonderfully. Look for the familiar E.E. Clive as a tour guide near the end. And don’t look away until the end - I promise that you will not know for sure which way the wind is blowing! And you just may be looking at everyone from now on to see if their eyes are wide apart, and pondering whether or not that's a good thing...
"I often wonder on a very fine morning what it would be like for night to fall."
"Happy dreams and sweet repose..."