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Month: April 2020

Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall (1937)

“You want adventure, don’t you? And it’s here — here in this house.”

Synopsis:
When a wealthy but cantankerous woman (Dame May Whitty) hires the boyfriend (Robert Montgomery) of her pregnant housemaid (Merle Tottenham) as a handyman, Whitty’s suspicious niece (Rosalind Russell) is both wary and intrigued — especially as news continues to circulate about a mysterious murder nearby.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Inheritance
  • Murder Mystery
  • Robert Montgomery Films
  • Rosalind Russell Films

Review:
Robert Montgomery is appropriately enigmatic and charming in this adaptation of Welsh writer-actor Emlyn Williams’ play, which — like Shadow of a Doubt (1943) — effectively showcases both the dangers of unwarranted trust and the need for “amateur sleuths” to keep a keen eye about them when a handsome stranger is on the scene. Russell plays nicely against type as a mousy young woman with a yen for darker matters, and Oscar-nominated Whitty is spot-on — but it’s Montgomery who really shines here: it’s all-too-easy to understand how he uses his sociopathic charms to wing his way cleverly into Whitty’s graces. (I like how Montgomery convincingly demonstrates the mental anguish he seems to be suffering from as well.) Despite a few minor narrative quibbles — see Moria’s review — this story keeps us consistently curious how things will end, and is worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Montgomery as Danny
  • Rosalind Russell as Olivia
  • Dame May Whitty as Mrs. Bramson
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a unique and well-acted thriller.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Green Pastures, The (1936)

Green Pastures, The (1936)

“In my own image, let there be man.”

Synopsis:
African-American children in a rural church listen to their Sunday School teacher (George Reed) tell creatively staged biblical stories, including the story of Adam (Rex Ingram) and Eve (Myrtle Anderson), Noah (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) and his ark, and Moses (Frank Wilson) — all overseen by “De Lawd” (Rex Ingram) himself.

Genres:

  • African-Americans
  • Biblical Stories
  • Play Adaptations
  • Priests and Ministers

Review:
Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, this film with an all-black cast remains a unique relic of its era — nicely described in TCM’s article:

Imagine, if you can, a “Southern-style Heaven” where black English vernacular is spoken, fish fries and free cigars are plentiful, and the Hall Johnson Choir sings spirituals in the background all day. In other words, you have a broadly played black miracle play…

TCM’s article also points out criticism of the movie by black film historian Donald Bogle, who notes that it “rests on a cruel assumption: that nothing could be more ludicrous than transporting the lowly language and folkways of the early twentieth-century Negro back to the high stately world before the flood.” With that said, it’s refreshing to see a rare mainstream 1930s movie centering black individuals’ lives, experiences, dreams, and fears; it’s too bad the film’s trailer was literally dominated by white actor Dick Powell (though at least this gives crucial historical context to the film’s release and reception).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A creative biblical narrative

Must See?
Yes, as a unique film of its era.

Categories

Links: