Friday, August 11, 2017



Working girl Carol Howard (Ann Harding) shares a flat in London with her good friend Kate and Carol's Aunt Lou, who is a general pain in the neck. One day, Carol wins a life-changing amount of money in a French lottery; she quits her job, sublets her apartment, and looks forward to traveling. Her fiancĂ© Ronny, however, is not happy—he fears that he will resent her wealth, and he does not want to quit his job and live the high life. On the same day that she and Ronny have a spat over her winnings, a man named Gerald (Basil Rathbone) comes to look into subletting her apartment and the two hit it off. He takes her to dinner that night and when she and Ronny officially split, she and Gerald become an item. Gerald has a surface charm, but there is also something off-putting about him and both Kate and Ronny pick up on. Ronny discovers that Gerald's stories his past can't be verified, but eventually Carol marries Gerald and they move to an isolated country house. She makes him the sole legal heir to her fortune—and that's when even Carol notices that Gerald is a little strange: he has a cellar that he uses as a darkroom for his photography hobby, but he gets over-the-top angry if anyone tries to enter it; once in a while, he has a rather batty moment which he blames on shellshock from the war; he is also diagnosed with a heart problem. When he insists that Carol join him on a rather sudden and mysterious trip out of town, Ronny and Kate smell danger, but Carol still seems willing to give her husband the benefit of the doubt—until the local doctor shows up with a copy of a book about serial killers that makes Gerald uncomfortable.

To say more would spoil the last 15 minutes of the movie (based on an Agatha Christie story), and it's a humdinger of an ending. It's not really a spoiler to note that Gerald is indeed not altogether right—we get hints of this from the get-go—and Rathbone's performance, eccentrically creepy, is startlingly modern in its modulations until he goes totally off the beam at the end. Harding is about average in the first half, playing the vaguely menaced wife as a passive victim, but she too gets to shine in the final sequence, the "night of terror" to which the American title refers. Indeed, the last half of this film feels like a cross between GASLIGHT and NIGHT MUST FALL, and the tension builds nicely to the end. Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" plays spookily on the soundtrack whenever Rathbone has one of his spells. Production values are on the B-side, and the first third of the film is a little slow, but when the acting moves to front and center, the film's faults fade. Binnie Hale and Bruce Seton are good as Kate and Ronny, and Joan Hickson, who would play Christie's Miss Marple on TV in the 80s, has a small role as a maid. This public domain film is not in good shape, but thriller fans should seek it out anyway. [YouTube]

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