Night Must Fall (1964)

Article #955 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-26-2003
Posting Date: 3-24-2004
Directed by Karel Reisz
Featuring Albert Finney, Mona Washbourne, Susan Hampshire

A psychopath takes up residence with an old woman and her daughter.

One of the things I’ve come to learn from writing these MOTDs is that the order in which you watch movies based on the same story can have a strong effect on how you feel about them. I wonder what I would have thought of this one if I hadn’t already been quite familiar with the 1937 version with Robert Montgomery as the psycho. Though I have problems with that one, it did do two things right; it placed the character focus primarily on the daughter, allowing us to experience the psycho from her perspective, and the psycho was played with such subtlety by Robert Montgomery (emphasizing the natural charm of the actor rather than his madness) that it was easy to see why the old woman was taken in by him. In this one, Albert Finney plays the psycho as just that—a psycho, and we get so many scenes of him acting loony that the end result is more silly and childish than frightening. This movie gets rid of the stagey talkiness of the original, but it also loses the suspense of the original by making explicit what was only implied in the earlier version. It also makes the daughter more of a cipher; for most of the movie, we don’t know or care about who she is or what she is feeling at all. And the psycho has been changed completely; Montgomery’s psycho was frightening because he was focused and very much in control; he was a definite threat. Finney’s psycho is about not being in control, and it makes him not only less scary but the whole story becomes rather aimless. On the plus side, the photography is beautiful, and there are some effective scenes towards the end; nevertheless, I prefer the original.


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