Classic Film Guide

Night Must Fall (1937)

Directed by Richard Thorpe, this John Van Druten (Gaslight (1944)) screenplay features three well known actors: Robert Montgomery, who received his first of two Best Actor Oscar nominations for it; Rosalind Russell, who would eventually earn four Best Actress Oscar nominations of her own; and Dame May Whitty, who received her first of two Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar nominations for her performance. The majority of the story takes place on one set, probably because it was based on the play by Emlyn Williams, which also featured Whitty. It's about a nefarious character (Montgomery) who befriends a rich, old invalid woman (Whitty) and charms her "homely" secretary-niece (Russell).

A woman is missing and foul play is suspected. At around the same time, Mrs. Bramson’s (Whitty) maid Dora (Merle Tottenham) is having trouble with her boyfriend Danny (Montgomery). A bit of a busy body and a wealthy woman used to getting her way, particularly since she's confined to a wheelchair, Mrs. Bramson wishes to intervene and meet the young man. When she does, she, and her niece Olivia (Russell) that works for her, are charmed by him. In fact, he is hired as a handyman becomes a live-in member on her staff, which along with Dora also includes a cook (Kathleen Harrison), neither of which live there. Mrs. Bramson is so taken with his doting on her, that she vouches for him when the police inspector (Matthew Boulton) inquires about him in connection with the missing woman. Olivia is not so sure, but she keeps quiet and even removes the tag from a shawl Danny gives her aunt, one that he'd claimed was his mother's. In fact, Olivia finds the whole situation rather exciting, much more so than dating her fiancé (?) Justin (Alan Marshal), especially when the woman's dead body is found headless and Danny has a like-sized box in his room.

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