Night Must Fall (1937 film)

Night Must Fall is a 1937 American film adaptation of the play by Emlyn Williams, adapted by John Van Druten and directed by Richard Thorpe. It stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell and Dame May Whitty in her Hollywood film debut at age 72. She reprised her role in the stage drama in London and New York City. A critical success, Night Must Fall was named the best film of the year by the National Board of Review.

Night Must Fall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Thorpe
Produced byHunt Stromberg
Screenplay byJohn Van Druten
Based onNight Must Fall
1937 play
by Emlyn Williams
Music byEdward Ward
CinematographyRay June
Edited byRobert Kern
Distributed byLoew's Inc.[1]
Release date
  • April 30, 1937 (1937-04-30)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$589,000 (est.)
Box office$1,015,000 (worldwide est.)

A 1964 remake stars Albert Finney.


Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) is an irascible elderly woman who holds court in a small English village. She pretends to need a wheelchair, and impulsively threatens to fire her maid, Dora (Merle Tottenham), for allegedly stealing a chicken and breaking china. Meanwhile, the household learns that the police have searched a nearby river looking for the missing Mrs. Shellbrook, a guest at the local hotel. Dora distracts Mrs. Bramson by mentioning her Irish boyfriend, Danny (Robert Montgomery), who works at the local hotel. Danny comes by to visit Dora, who asks Mrs. Bramson to speak with him. Perceiving that Mrs. Bramson is a hypochondriac who only affects her need for a wheelchair, Danny is charming toward her and says 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. Mrs. Bramson obliges and he 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 so much cash in her possession; but 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 shawl that allegedly belonged to his mother, noticing that the price tag is still on the shawl. Still, Olivia cannot help being attracted to Danny.

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 fond of Danny. The rest of the household does not feel comfortable being in the house while a killer is at large, but 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 empties the safe.

Olivia arrives unexpectedly 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 is no longer drawn to him. But just then the police arrive, called by Justin when he could not reach Olivia by phone, and arrest Danny. As he leaves, Danny says, "I'll hang in the end, but they'll get their money's worth at the trial." Finally, Justin and Olivia embrace.



The film was a critical but not a financial success. The New York Daily News said Robert Montgomery's performance "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."[2]

Box office

The film grossed a total (domestic and foreign) of $1,015,000: $550,000 from the US and Canada and $465,000 elsewhere. It made a profit of $40,000.


Night Must Fall was named the best film of 1937 by the National Board of Review.[3]

Montgomery was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Whitty for Best Supporting Actress.[4]

Home media

The Warner Archive Collection released Night Must Fall on DVD (Region 0 NTSC) on December 14, 2010.[5][6]


A radio adaptation of Night Must Fall was presented on Philip Morris Playhouse October 24, 1941.[7] Starring Burgess Meredith, Maureen O'Sullivan and Flora Robson, the program has not survived in radio collections.[8]

Night Must Fall was adapted for the July 24, 1944, broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring James Cagney, Rosemary DeCamp and May Whitty.[9][10]

Robert Montgomery produced, hosted and starred in a CBS Radio adaptation of Night Must Fall on Suspense March 27, 1948. May Whitty, Heather Angel, Richard Ney and Matthew Boulton costarred.[11][12]


  1. Night Must Fall at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. "Night Must Fall". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  3. "The Outstanding Films of 1937". National Board of Review Magazine. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. XIII (1): 3. January 1938. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  4. "Night Must Fall". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2014-02-07. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  5. "Night Must Fall". DVD Beaver. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  6. "Night Must Fall". Warner Archive Collection. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  7. ""Playhouse" Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 18, 1941. p. 27. Retrieved July 21, 2015 via
  8. "Philip Morris Playhouse". The Digital Deli Too. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  9. "Suspense". RadioGOLDINdex. J. David Goldin. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  10. "Night Must Fall". The Screen Guild Theater. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  11. "Suspense". RadioGOLDINdex. J. David Goldin. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  12. "Night Must Fall". Suspense. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
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