Night Must Fall (1937): Richard Thorpe’s Oscar-Nominated Thriller, Starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell

Actor Emlyn Williams’ play, Night Must Fall, was filmed by MGM with a good deal of integrity, and, remarkably for the times, without the usual studio-imposed happy ending.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Night Must Fall

Theatrical release poster

Robert Montgomery stars as Danny, a wickedly charming Irish bellhop who wins the confidence of an elderly invalid, Mrs. Bramson  (Dame May Whitty). The old woman’s niece, Olivia Grayne,  (Rosalind Russell) is not so easily charmed by Danny, but later on she finds him attractive.

Photo: Robert Montgomery and Dame May Whitty in Night Must Fall

Is Danny a wanted murderer? Olivia is hesitant to call the police.

The film’s final scene, in which Danny ambles around the house carrying a hatbox that may contain Ms. Whitty’s head, is scary.

Spoiler Alert:

In the last reel, Olivia returns unexpectedly, just as Danny is about to set the house ablaze. She admits to Danny that she was once attracted to him, but then realized that her aunt has been murdered by him. Danny talks about his poor childhood and being a servant. He threatens to kill her too, so that no one can incriminate him in Mrs. Bramson’s murder. Olivia understands his motivation, but says she is no longer drawn to him, because she sees him for who he really is, a cold-blooded killer.

Just then the police arrive, called by Justin, when he could not reach Olivia. They arrest Danny for murder, when he says, “I’ll hang in the end, but they’ll get their money’s worth at the trial.”

Justin and Olivia then embrace.

Robert Montgomery fought with MGM execs to play the murderous Danny (cast against type), and he was rewarded with a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

This was the film that put Rosalind Russell on the map as a major talent.

Night Must Fall was a critical but not a  commercial success.

MGM remade it in 1964, starring Albert Finney, in a rather inferior version.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Actor: Robert Montgomery

Supporting Actress: May Whitty

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Actor was Spencer Tracy for “Captains Courageous.”  The Supporting Actress Oscar went to Alice Brady for “In Old Chicago.”

Critical Status

Night Must Fall was named the best film of 1937 by the NBR (National Board of Review).

Robert Montgomery as Danny
Rosalind Russell as Olivia Grayne
Dame May Whitty as Mrs. Bramson
Alan Marshal as Justin Laurie
Merle Tottenham as Dora Parkoe, the maid
Kathleen Harrison as Emily Terence, the cook
Eily Malyon as Village Nurse
Matthew Boulton as Inspector Belsize
Beryl Mercer as Saleslady
E. E. Clive as Tour Guide


Directed by Richard Thorpe
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay by John Van Druten, based on Night Must Fall, 1935 play by Emlyn Williams

Music by Edward Ward
Cinematography Ray June
Edited by Robert Kern

Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed by Loew’s Inc.

Release date: April 30, 1937

Running time: 116 minutes
Language English
Budget $589,000 (est.)
Box office $1,015,000 (worldwide)

DVD: June 26, 1996