Night Must Fall (1937) is a psychological thriller directed by Richard Thorpe. The film stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, and Dame May Whitty. Dame May Whitty reprises her role from the play's performances in London and New York.
The film is an adaptation of the Emlyn Williams play of the same name.
Robert Montgomery was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Dame May Whitty for Best Supporting Actress. The film was named the Best Picture of the year by the National Board of Review.
In a small English village, the police are dragging the river, searching for the body of Mrs. Shellbrook, who has been missing for several days.
Meanwhile, at the home of Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty), the maid Dora (Merle Tottenham) informs her that she is having boyfriend troubles and her boyfriend, Danny, has promised to marry her but is taking his time.
Mrs. Bramson speaks to the young lad (Robert Montgomery). Danny instead charms his way into Mrs. Bramson's home. He tells her that she reminds him of his mother, then says that he loves Dora and would marry her if he had a better job. Mrs. Bramson hires the young lad and he moves in. One example of Danny's charming Mrs. Bramson is purchasing a scarf in the village and gives it to Mrs. Bramson, saying that it belonged to his mother. Olivia, who sees the price tag on the scarf, says nothing.
Mrs. Bramson's niece and companion, Olivia (Rosalind Russell), is suspicious of Danny, but Mrs. Bramson stubbornly refuses to listen to her.
Mrs. Bramson's attorney, Justin Laurie (Alan Marshall), arrives to give Mrs. Bramson some money, and warns her not to keep much cash around the cottage, but she is unconcerned. After Mr. Laurie leaves, Mrs. Bramson puts money into her safe and is secretly observed by Danny.
Dora, Olivia and Mrs. Terence (Kathleen Harrison), the other maid, secretly go through Danny's things one day when he is out with Mrs. Bransom. They are caught and Danny seems unconcerned except for worrying about a giant hat box that they have not snooped into. One item they find is a picture of Mrs. Shellbrook and wonder Danny's true connection to her.
Dora discovers Mrs. Shellbrook's decapitated body. Though Olivia accuses Danny of the murder, he denies it. However, Olivia is fascinated by Danny and at the same time afraid of him.
Olivia tries again to warn Mrs. Bramson of her concerns and she merely dismisses her niece's accusations.
When the police inspector comes, he searches Danny's room and finds the large, locked hatbox. He is just about to open it when Olivia impulsively grabs the box and says that it is hers.
Olivia now very fearful and still attracted to Danny makes arrangements to stay with Mr. Laurie's mother. The maids, Dora and Mrs. Terence leave for the evening. Mrs. Bransom is now alone with Danny. Danny cuts the telephone wires without anyone's knowledge. Danny steps out on a mysterious walk.
Alone in her drawing room, 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 murders Mrs. Bransom by smothering her. He next robs the safe.
Olivia returns to check on her aunt and Danny threatens to kill her too in order to cover up his crimes. Will Olivia be rescued or murdered as well?
Dame May Whitty is wonderful as the horrid abusive elderly woman. She is only nice to Danny.
Rosalind Russell is wonderful and delivers a great performance with the conflicting emotions of being fascinated and attracted to Danny but at the same time fearful he is a murderer.
Robert Montgomery is charming but sinister.
What transpires between the major characters is an intriguing mystery and psychological drama.