“That's the kind of fella I am. I make my mind up about something and then I do it.”
Stories about old ladies who get taken advantage of by a strange but charming man have been used over and over as plot devices in books and movies. The guy is usually a big time creeper that the old lady cannot seem to see but someone, and usually just one person, sees the man for who he really is. That is basically the plot of Night Must Fall unfortunately.
The film begins with a night scene. The camera pans over a misty wooded area and stops at a man placing something under a tree. The man is stopped in his tracks by another man who is walking in the woods and yells out to him. The man under the tree runs away in flash before the other man can get any closer. The following day the police are all over a small English country town.
An old woman named Mrs. Bramson lives in the small town. She is a crotchety old woman who claims to be an invalid and bosses everyone around. The two maids Dora and Mrs. Terence follow the woman’s orders with an eye roll. Olivia Grayne (Rosalind Russell), Mrs. Bramson’s niece, also works at the house as the old woman’s secretary. Dora comes into the house one morning all in a tiff because her boyfriend Danny (Robert Montgomery) will not marry her even though he keeps telling her he will. Mrs. Bramson wants to have a talk with this young man so her help will stop being a pain.
The police come to the house to ask Mrs. Bramson and the people of her house questions concerning a murder of a woman. The woman was not from the town she was always seen with an older man. No one in the house ever really saw the missing woman before even though they had all heard of her. Olivia’s imagination, hungry for excitement and a sense of escape, comes up with a scenario for where the body could be and how it could be found.
Dora brings Danny to the house. He is a very soft spoken man and very kind. He can tell Mrs. Bramson is very well off and right when he meets her he sweet talks her and makes her feel like all her problems and her life are very important. She asks Danny if he will marry Dora but he says he cannot because he does not have the money. Since he has been so kind to her like no one else in the house is, Mrs. Bramson hires Danny as a companion.
Mrs. Bramson’s lawyer, Justin, is not happy about the old woman keeping so much money around the house from the tenants on her estate. She is not bothered it whatsoever. She asks Justin how much she has left to Olivia in her will. He tells her that she is always changing it he thinks she has left two hundred pounds for Olivia. Mrs. Bramson tells Justin to cut that amount in half even if it does leave her with barely anything to live on. Justin leaves and she puts the money away in a box in her desk and locks the desk. As she does this, Danny comes back to the house and he can see what she is doing through a window.
Olivia is still not sure about Danny. She finds him exciting and that is attractive to her. As an excuse to be near him and talk to him Olivia brings Danny his hat he can casually placed on a hat rack. He tells her she would look nice without her glasses on. A bit later she takes off her glasses and looks into a mirror and adjusts her hair. Danny catches Olivia performing this act. Olivia feels like Danny is hiding something about the missing woman because he knew so many details about her. She takes Dora and Mrs. Terence into Danny’s room to look over his things. They find an envelope filled with photographs of other women and even a note. One of the photographs is of the missing woman. They come upon a hat box but Danny before either woman can see what is inside Danny comes back and calls them out for snooping. Olivia begins to harp on Danny by talking about the murder trying to get him to confess to it when all of the sudden they hear Dora scream from the backyard and look out the window to see she has fainted. Dora had stumbled upon the body of the missing woman. She is missing her head. The detective who came around the first time comes to ask Mrs. Bramson and everyone more questions.
That night Olivia cannot sleep so she goes to the kitchen. Danny hears her and goes in as well. In a way he corners her and tells her how she seeks excitement in her life and has found it in the house with him being there and the murder. She runs away from him because everything he has said is true.
Later on Olivia begins to question Danny on where he was the night of the murder. He tells her he cannot sleep and has not been able to for quite some time. The detective comes around yet again and asks Danny the same question Olivia did. He goes into Danny’s room to look around. Olivia can see Danny is anxious and about to jump out of his skin. She goes into the room and takes the hat box informing the detective that the room used to be where they kept all their boxes and she must have left in there when the room was cleared. When the detective leaves Danny collapses.
Olivia cannot bare to be in the house anymore. She calls Justin to ask if she can stay with his mother. Now Danny is all alone with Mrs. Bramson. He deliberately makes the old woman go crazy by leaving her alone for a few minutes as he walks Dora and Mrs. Terence into town. When he comes back he gives Mrs. Bramson some alcohol to calm her nerves and slow her down. He places her back in her wheelchair and brings a pillow to her face. Olivia comes back. He asks her if she came back for him and she replies that she did and it is only because she knows he killed the other woman. Danny threatens to kill her to keep quiet about the woman and her dead aunt so no one will able to find him. Olivia tells him she is not frightened of him because he was a form of escape for her until she realized how mad he was.
Justin and the police come in before anything could happen to Olivia. Danny is arrested.
Night Must Fall was not that great. Both Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery were excellent despite their bland characters. Montgomery is always so put together in his films and plays such a gentleman that seeing him as Danny as this conniving, thieving man with an Irish accent was very interesting. I was actually a little surprised that Montgomery played the bad guy since he was such a draw for MGM and one of their leading actors. Usually an actor like Montgomery would never have been portrayed as a bad guy. Russell I am used to seeing in comedies such as The Women and His Girl Friday. She definitely did have a range. I will only say to watch Night Must Fall to see Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery in unconventional roles other than them the story was boring and way too long.