Critical Context

Night Must Fall was very popular when it first appeared and remains one of the plays most associated with Emlyn Williams’s name. Well-known, too, are A Murder Has Been Arranged (pr., pb. 1930), The Late Christopher Bean (pr., pb. 1933), and The Corn Is Green (pr., pb. 1938).

Williams’s fascination with murder is also evident in A Murder Has Been Arranged and his account of the famous English Moors murders of 1965, titled Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and Its Detection (1967). Night Must Fall is itself based on at least three murders which took place in the 1920’s and 1930’s. First there was Henry Jacoby, a hotel employee, who was executed in 1922 for killing a hotel guest; then in 1924 there was Patrick Mahon, who murdered his mistress in a Sussex bungalow; and in 1934 Toni Mancini attempted, very clumsily, to conceal his victim’s body in his Brighton lodging house. Moreover, Dan is based on Fess Griffith, a working-class ne’er-do-well who forged a check which Williams had given him to buy a motorbicycle and with whom Williams was infatuated for a time.

Perhaps, ironically, that infatuation eventually helped Williams understand the character he had created, for he scored a great success acting the role of Dan. Indeed, Williams’s reputation now rests as much on his acting as on his playwriting. He gave a celebrated one-man show as Charles Dickens in 1951, following that up with Dylan Thomas Growing Up (pr. 1955). Both shows were theatrical coups—which points to the basis of Williams’s success: a sure sense of what will work in the theater and what will hold an audience.