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Night of the Party, The (1934)

British Film Institute

Main image of Night of the Party, The (1934)
35mm, 61 min, black & white
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
ScenarioRalph Smart
Original playRoland Pertwee,
& dialogueJohn Hastings Turner
PhotographyGlen MacWilliams

Cast: Malcolm Keen (Lord Studholme); Jane Baxter (Peggy Studholme); Ian Hunter (Guy Kennion); Leslie Banks (Sir John Holland); Viola Keats (Joan Holland); Ernest Thesiger (Adrian Chiddiatt)

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Sir John Holland of Scotland Yard and his daughter Joan are implicated in a murder when they attend a party held by the much-hated Lord Studholme.

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Cavalcanti and Ernst Lindgren's survey of realism and documentary, Film and Reality (1942) uses Love From A Stranger (d. Rowland V. Lee, 1937) as an example of films which are overburdened with dialogue, lacking in 'realism' and acted and directed in a heavily theatrical manner. In truth, they could have picked many of the dozens of stage adaptations that proliferated in 1930s British cinema. It is certainly true for critics of Michael Powell's The Night of the Party, unquestionably the least distinguished of the quartet of films he made at Gaumont-British.

The first of these to be released was The Fire Raisers (1933), but Night of the Party was actually started first. According to Powell, its release was delayed because it was under-length, and so he shot three days of extra scenes after completing Fire Raisers. Based on a play with the prototypical title 'Murder Party' (which was used for the American release instead), this is a whodunit in which a party game turns fatal after the lights go out. Needless to say, all of the guests have good reasons for hating the victim.

Almost completely studio-bound, the majority of the action is confined to only six sets. To offset this, Powell and cinematographer Glen MacWilliams use many compositions privileging mirrors in an effort to make the dialogue scenes more visually varied and dynamic. The crucial party sequence is well-staged and fluidly filmed and the scenes set in darkness for the game are atmospherically photographed. Powell later called it "a bad film from a bad script, from a very poor play and not very successful". It does, however, feature a gleefully impish performance by Ernest Thesiger, who gets all the best dialogue (asked to turn a noisy record off, he bemoans that "these dance tunes want louder needles if one is to taste real misery"). The film also represented several important 'firsts' for Powell: the first of four films Leslie Banks made for him and the first of five with Ian Hunter. Most importantly, though, it was here that he had his first contact with art director Alfred Junge, later a crucial member of his Archers team.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Chiddiatt prepares (3:11)
2. The butler did it (2:49)
3. Murder game (3:53)
4. Not suicide (3:38)
Complete film (1:00:25)
Banks, Leslie (1890-1952)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Thesiger, Ernest (1879-1961)
Early Michael Powell