NIGHT MUST FALL (1937). Director: Richard Thorpe.
First film version of Emlym Williams' play certainly holds the attention and has a very interesting story, but it requires the genius of a Hitchcock to make it really come alive and the pedestrian director Richard Thorpe was never on that level. Robert Montgomery is generally excellent as Danny, who enters the household of the prickly, unlikable old lady (Dame May Whitty) when he becomes romantically entangled with one of her housemaids. Danny is intelligent enough to know exactly how to play the woman, but he can't quite fool the poor relation (Rosalind Russell) who also lives in the house and works for the old woman. Unfortunately, Russell isn't entirely immune to Danny's charm, and slowly begins to fall for him even as she becomes more convinced that he's responsible for a gruesome murder in the neighborhood. Russell isn't really up to the task of exploring all the psychological ramifications of her character, but Whitty is simply superb as the old woman. While most of the film isn't remotely scary and has little atmosphere, the scene when she's left alone in the house is quite eerie and well done, and her subsequent encounter with Montgomery is extremely effective and well-acted. What a shame that this assignment wasn't given to the Master of Suspense – Hitch would have turned this into a nail-biting and psychologically penetrating classic.
Verdict: No classic, but has its moments. **1/2.