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Night Must Fall (1937 film)

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Title: Night Must Fall (1937 film)  
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Language: English
Subject: Edward Ward (composer), Merle Tottenham, Richard Thorpe, Black Hand (1950 film), Ray June
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Night Must Fall (1937 film)

Night Must Fall
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Written by Emlyn Williams (play)
John Van Druten
Starring Robert Montgomery
Rosalind Russell
Dame May Whitty
Music by Edward Ward
Cinematography Ray June
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • April 30, 1937 (1937-04-30)
Running time 116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $589,000 (est.)
Box office $1,015,000 (worldwide est.)

Night Must Fall is a 1937 film adaptation of the Emlyn Williams play of the same name. It was directed by Richard Thorpe and adapted by John Van Druten. It stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, and Dame May Whitty. Whitty reprised her role in the stage drama in London and New York.

It was remade in 1964 with the same title, starring Albert Finney, albeit with less success.


Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) is a surly, elderly woman holding court in a small English village. She pretends to need a wheelchair, and impulsively decides to try to fire her maid, Dora (Merle Tottenham), for allegedly stealing and breaking china. Meanwhile, the household learns that the police have searched a nearby river looking for the missing villager, Mrs. Shellbrook. Dora then introduces her Irish boyfriend, Danny (Robert Montgomery), who works for Mrs. Shellbrook. Danny, knowing that Mrs. Bramson is a hypochondriac and is faking her need for a wheelchair, is very charming toward her, saying that she reminds him of his mother. He tells Mrs. Bramson that he loves Dora and would marry her if he had a better job, and Mrs. Bramson obliges and becomes her servant.

Mrs. Bramson's niece and companion, Olivia Grayne (Rosalind Russell), is suspicious of Danny, but Mrs. Bramson dismisses her concerns. When Mrs. Bramson's attorney, Justin Laurie (Alan Marshal), arrives to give his client money, he warns her not to keep this much cash in her possession, however she dismisses his concerns as well. Meanwhile, Justin, who is in love with Olivia, asks her to marry him, but she refuses because their relationship lacks any true romance. Justin leaves feeling dejected, and Danny sees Mrs. Bramson putting the cash into her safe. Olivia's concerns are heightened when she catches Danny lying to Mrs. Bramson about a scarf that allegedly belonged to his mother. She notices the price tag still on the scarf, but she cannot help her attraction to him.

Soon Dora discovers Mrs. Shellbrook's decapitated body in the forest. Though Olivia accuses Danny of the murder, he denies it. Again, Mrs. Bramson dismisses her niece's concerns because she has grown very found of Danny. The rest of the family does not feel comfortable being in the house while Danny is there, however Mrs. Bramson feels safe enough to stay with Danny. Later that night, 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. Danny then suffocates her to death and robs the safe.

Suddenly, Olivia appears and admits to Danny that she was attracted to him in the past, but no longer. He references his poor childhood and being looked down upon being a servant, and threatens to kill her, too, so that no one can incriminate him in Mrs. Bramson's murder. Olivia said she understands if he kills her, but she wanted him to know that she wanted nothing to do with him. 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, Justin and Olivia embrace.



Night Must Fall was a critical but not financial success. 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." The newspaper Variety proclaimed that "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 personally supervised the making of a trailer which preceded the film, warning filmgoers of its "experimental nature."[1]


Montgomery was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Whitty for Best Supporting Actress.[2]

The film was named the Best Picture of the year by the National Board of Review.


  1. ^ "Night Must Fall". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  2. ^ "Night Must Fall".  

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