Most critics compare, unfavourable I must say, Karel Reisz’s 1964 version of the psychological thriller Night Must Fall with the 1937 version directed by Richard Thorpe which starred Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell and Dame May Whitty in her film debut at the age of 72! But the truth is although Thorpe’s US version was critically acclaimed the MGM’s British Unit attempt did much better at the box office than the original. I have never seen this earlier adaptation therefore I can’t compare the two. Both, I understand, were based on Emlyn Williams play first performed in 1935.
It was the Czech born British filmmaker Reisz and play write Clive Exton who updated the story to the 1960’s and like Reisz previous movie, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), it stars Albert Finney. Finney plays Danny who when the film opens we observe murdering a woman in some woodland by removing her head with an axe! Juxtaposed with this we see a young lady having an early morning stroll around a rather sizeable English style garden of a large isolated house on the edge of the same woodland. Olivia (Susan Hampshire) is the daughter of the proprietor of the house, the elderly infirmed Mrs Bramson (Mona Washbourne). Arriving for her morning duties is Mrs Bramson’s maid Dora (Sheila Hancock). Dora has been made pregnant by her ‘boyfriend’ Danny, yes the same Danny who we have just seen murdering a poor women with an axe and dumping her body in a lake. He has been summoned to explain his intentions towards Dora to Mrs Bramson and before long he has won over the old lady, aroused Olivia’s repressed sexuality and moved into the house along with a leather hatbox!
|....having already won over Mrs Bramson (Mona Washbourne)|
This melodramatic interpretation was produced by Reisz and Albert Finney, its DOP was the Academy Award winning Freddie Francis and the musical score was in the capable hands of Ron Grainer. Don’t be put off by what you have heard, I was impressed with Finney’s role as Danny, a demanding one in which he injects dread into ever scene he appears. His scenes with Mona Washbourne are especially good and Susan Hampshire, who was born to play the repressed Englishwoman, does so with her normal competence.