Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Night Must Fall

TCM's "Star of the Month" for July has been Rosalind Russell; every Tuesday night in July TCM is showing movies starring this actress. Tonight's prime time salute kicks off with the 1937 movie Night Must Fall, at 8:00 PM ET.

The star of Night Must Fall is not Russell, but the elegant Robert Montgomery. Montgomery plays Danny, a suave man with a hatbox who walks into the lives of the elderly, wheelchair-bound Mrs. Bramson (played by Dame May Whitty) and Bramson's niece Olivia (that's Rosalind Russell). Olivia has been taking care of her aunt, but when Danny appears on the scene, he states that he's willing to help. Mrs. Bramson seems taken with the charming Danny, and is perfectly willing for him to take over since she doesn't want Olivia to become an old maid. Olivia is somewhat smitten with Danny romantically, but she also suspects that there's something not quite right about Danny, especially when she finds out that there's been another old lady murdered in the area. Indeed, we soon find out that Mrs. Bramson has a substantial sum of money lying around the house, and when Danny finds out about this, he's after the money. However, there's more to Danny than just wanting the money....

Night Must Fall is based on a stage play, and this 1937 production looks like a filmed stage play in many ways. However, the acting is quite good. Robert Montgomery might have been at his best in romantic comedies, when he could play elegant, dashing, energetic gentlemen; some of this charm is brought with him in Night Must Fall. But there's also a much darker side to Danny, and Robert Montgomery is superb in evoking the more baleful aspects of Danny's personality. Dame May Whitty is effective once again playing another little old lady, the sort of character that her age allowed her to specialize in. Her Mrs. Bramson can be feisty, but also accepting of the idea that she's old, and this world is for the young. Rosalind Russell is the weakest of the three main characters, but that's because her character has a bit less to do than Danny and Mrs. Bramson. Russell is just fine as Olivia and doesn't detract from the proceedings.

Night Must Fall, having been based on a popular stage play, was a natural candidate for a movie to be remade, and indeed it was in 1964, with Albert Finney playing the role of Danny. However, Finney's Danny exudes none of the charm of Montgomery's; charm that's necessary to make the character's worming his way into Mrs. Bramson's house plausible. As a result, viewers would be better off watching the 1937 version.

Sad to say, but neither version of Night Must Fall appears to be available on DVD, so if you want to see it, you'll have to catch tonight's showing on TCM.

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