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Film / Night Must Fall

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These are the hands of a strange man.

Night Must Fall (1937) is a film adaptation of the Emlyn Williams' thrilling play of the same name, directed by Richard Thorpe.

Olivia (Rosalind Russell) is the beleaguered niece and secretary for her aunt, Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Witty), who’s an exacting and grumpy old woman. One day the old lady takes a fancy to page boy, Danny (Robert Montgomery), who’s a charming, common fellow. Olivia has a bad feeling about him and suspects him of being the murderer of a local woman who has gone missing. But Olivia finds herself intrigued by the romanticism of such excitement and doesn’t take herself out of danger even when every passing day makes Danny more suspicious.

Not to be confused with the 1964 film of the same name.


  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Played Straight, but Subverted in the end. Although contrary to her morals, Olivia is into Danny even though he’s probably a murderer. This stems from boredom in this small village and loneliness. But in the end, she realizes that she was romanticizing a very charming criminal and was very wrong in doing so.
    Danny: You want adventure, don't you?
  • Chekhov's Gun: It's pretty obvious when the newspaper mentions the killer whistling the old song "Mighty Lak' a Rose" that we'll hear Danny whistling it. We do, and that scene is the first clue Olivia has that Danny might be the bad guy.
  • Conversation Cut: When Danny himself suggests that Mrs. Shellbrook was murdered, Dora the maid says "Who by?" Cut to Danny's face as Mrs. Bramson, from elsewhere in the house, calls "Danny! Danny!"
  • Dark Secret: Danny did murder the missing woman.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Danny. He puts on a friendly, dumbass façade to get what he wants.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Olivia takes off her glasses, lets her hair down, and looks at herself in the mirror as she's feeling the first blushes of passion for Danny. Naturally he catches her. Soon after she loses the glasses for good, clearly attracted to Danny even as she suspects him.
    Danny: I told you you'd be better lookin' without them glasses.
  • Grand Dame: Mrs. Bramson, the haughty, snobby rich lady who owns the house and treats her niece Olivia like a maid.
  • Hide the Evidence: Danny has a strange, locked basket. Once Olivia learns that the murder victim’s head is missing, she becomes more certain that Danny is hiding it in that basket. But when the police come, she covers up for him and says that it’s where she keeps her letters. Danny then proceeds to get rid of this incriminating evidence.
  • In Vino Veritas: Olivia tries to invoke this trope when Danny has had too much whisky, but he won’t admit to the crime.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Only just averted. Olivia finds out that Danny really was the killer, and he's about to kill her when she’s saved just in time.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Olivia lets down her unflattering hairdo (and takes off her glasses) as she's primping in the mirror after becoming infatuated with Danny.
  • Nice Guy: Justin, Mrs. Bramson’s lawyer, and Olivia’s friend who wants to be more than friends. Olivia doesn’t want to be with him for his boring, regular qualities, but eventually she realizes that being into a psychopath murderer is not exciting or better, it’s wrong.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Mrs. Bramson. It’s revealed that she can walk perfectly. It's not for nefarious reasons; however, she pretends to be unable to walk because she likes being able to boss people around while she’s in her chair.
  • Tempting Fate: Danny, in the middle of an I Know You Know I Know exchange with Olivia, speaks defiantly of the missing woman, saying "They haven't found her yet, have they?" This is immediately followed by Dora's scream from the woods, at the moment that the missing woman's body is found.
  • Too Funny to Be Evil: Mrs. Bramson’s estimation of Danny, as she’s constantly calling him “silly boy” and laughing at his jokes and negating anything negative about him.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Olivia is unwillingly into Danny even if she thinks he’s a killer. There’s some tense scenes in the kitchen but it never goes beyond tension.
  • Villain Ball: Why in the hell is Danny toting a severed head around? It would make sense if he were a Serial Killer but the idea seems to be that he seduces women to kill them and steal their money.
  • Vorpal Pillow: How Danny murders Mrs. Bramson, although the film cuts away in a Gory Discretion Shot.