"The lusty brawling star of TOM JONES goes psycho in" NIGHT MUST FALL, out on manufactured-on-demand DVD-R from Warner Archive.
When housekeeper Dora (Sheila Hancock, THE ANNIVESARY) gets pregnant out of wedlock, her employer Mrs. Bramson (Mona Washbourne, FRAGMENT OF FEAR) takes an interest and calls her suitor to tea to see if he meets with her approval. Gregarious Danny (Albert Finney, WOLFEN) quickly disarms the ailing widow with his boyish charm, eliciting a warmth and good humor that she shows for neither Dora nor her own daughter Olivia (Susan Hampshire, MALPERTUIS) on an extended visit from London. In fact, it isn't long before she suggests Danny quit his job as a hotel waiter and stay in the spare room to fix up the house over the summer. Although he has charmed Mrs. Bramson to the extent that she asks him to call her "mother" in private – after allusions to his sad childhood – Dora begins to resent Danny's kowtowing ways as he takes over the kitchen and the old lady's care. The icy Olivia more gradually warms to Danny's badgering treatment of her as her own relationship with boyfriend Derek (Michael Medwin, SCROOGE) – who indirectly insults Olivia by remarking Danny would make someone a good wife after tasting his cooking – fizzles. Little do they know that only a day before Danny was the one who axed to death Mrs. Chalfont for whom the police and locals are searching the nearby woods and dragging the lake. While they are certain to find the body eventually, Danny has kept a part of her with him inside a hatbox that he opens nightly. As a detective (Martin Wyldeck, DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE) begins snooping around the vicinity after a headless body is found in the lake, it seems that Danny is looking forward to the challenge.
Based on the play by Emlyn Williams, previously adapted to the screen in 1937 with Robert Montgomery (LADY IN THE LAKE) in the lead (and also available from Warner Archive), the 1964 remake – scripted by Clive Exton (THE AWAKENING, RED SONJA) – is focused almost entirely on Finney's Danny, drawing more suspense out of just what might make Danny finally go over the deep end rather than Olivia's mounting suspicion that they may have a murderer in the house. Finney's performance is both scenery-chewing and nuanced as he is performing the entire time for an audience (even when he is alone in his room), although his thick Welsh accent is can become tiresome. He is alternately lusty, lecherous, and childish, but obviously psychotic or at least unstable enough that it is hard to imagine any woman however lonely charmed by him. Rather than the sexually-repressed spinster of the play, Olivia here is an actress whose extended stay at home might have other motives than concern for her mother. Here, she's such a dreary, self-involved character that her only appealing quality is that she's played by Susan Hampshire. Washbourne and Parkoe are more sympathetic even as their jealousy comes to the fore whenever Danny's attentions are diverted elsewhere ("He doesn't belong to you, you know! I'm the one who pays him!") The scoring of Ron Grainer (DOCTOR WHO) is bombastic throughout in its underlining of even the slightest twinge of Danny's madness, and its quotation of "Three Blind Mice" simply grates. An old dark house mystery is drawn out over several sunny days before a stormy night stalking set-piece superbly realized by the camerawork of THE INNOCENTS' Freddie Francis (assisted by EXORCIST III's Gerry Fisher) – including shots where the camera is mounted to Washbourne's wheelchair and a jolting zoom – but undercut by cutaways to Hampshire in the movie theater, driving home, getting a flat, and changing a tire in the rain that seem to have only been added to give Hampshire more screen time. NIGHT MUST FALL is more interesting as a post-PSYCHO British thriller (although even the most rotely-plotted Hammer variant is more entertaining), but it is more a showcase for Finney than a character-driven, slow-burn psychological thriller. Director Karl Reisz had made his feature debut with Finney in SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, but shows less affinity for the thriller genre here than for dramas like THE GAMBLER and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN as well as the biographical ISADORA!
Warner Archive's single-layer, progressive DVD-R sports an anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer that changes exhibit some faint white specks at the reel changes. Grain can be strong, and the image has that British New Wave emphasis on grays over whites with what highlights there are in the sunny exteriors blooming. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in fine condition with minute hiss. Closed captioning would have been helpful at times with Finney's thick accent. The sole extra is a poor quality film's theatrical trailer (3:06) that is typically hyperbolic and highlights Finney's TOM JONES performance. (Eric Cotenas)
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