|On the Night of the Fire|
|Directed by||Brian Desmond Hurst|
|Produced by||Josef Somlo|
|Written by||Brian Desmond Hurst|
F. L. Green (novel)
|Music by||Miklós R��zsa|
On the Night of the Fire, released in the United States as The Fugitive, is a 1939 British thriller, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Ralph Richardson and Diana Wynyard. The film is based on the novel of the same name by F. L. Green. It was shot on location in Newcastle upon Tyne and was released shortly after the outbreak of World War II. It is regarded as an early example of British film noir, with the kind of subject matter and filming style which fell completely out of favour during the war years – when British studios felt that cinemagoers would want either light entertainment and escapism or topical patriotic propaganda pieces – and would not be taken up again until the later 1940s.
Film critic David Quinlan describes the film as "grim but gripping". Andrew Spicer, in his book European Film Noir, writes: "A riveting psychological study. With its sustained doom-laden atmosphere, Krampf’s expressive cinematography, its adroit mixture of location shooting and Gothic compositions and Richardson’s wonderful performance as a lower middle-class Everyman, On the Night of the Fire clearly shows that an achieved mastery of film noir existed in British cinema".
Struggling Tyneside barber, Will Kobling (Richardson), is in financial trouble. One evening, opportunistically and on impulse, he steals £100 from a factory where a window has been left open. He hopes the money will represent a new start for him and wife Kit (Wynyard). His hopes are dashed when Kit confesses to being in debt to the local draper, Pilleger (Henry Oscar), who has been pressuring her to settle it. Most of the stolen cash has to go on this.
Pilleger banks the money, only for the police to inform him that the serial numbers of the notes match those stolen from the factory. He professes himself an innocent party, claiming not to know which of his customers they came from, and the police have to let the matter drop. Pilleger blackmails Kobling, promising silence in return for £3 per week. Kobling is horrified at this indefinite burden, but feels obliged to consent.
Some time later, and facing the loss of his business through lack of ready cash, Kobling decides to challenge Pilleger. An opportunity presents itself when a fire breaks out, distracting the police and public. He confronts Pilleger and a fight breaks out, ending in Pilleger's death. The police suspect that Kobling is involved and uses psychological tactics to break him down, but he remains grimly silent and sends Kit and their baby to stay with her sister.
Kobling was seen at Pilleger's store on the night of his murder by Lizzie Crane (Mary Clare), a well-known eccentric, who talks about what she saw. The populace shun Kobling and call for justice, but the police do not believe Lizzie's word will stand up as evidence. As they continue to put pressure on him, Kobling approaches breaking point. He finally cracks when he is told that Kit has been killed in a road accident.
- Ralph Richardson as Will Kobling
- Diana Wynyard as Kit Cobling
- Romney Brent as Jimsey Jones
- Mary Clare as Lizzie Crane
- Henry Oscar as Pilleger
- Dave Crowley as Jim Smith
- Gertrude Musgrove as Dora Smith
- Frederick Leister as Inspector
- Ivan Brandt as Wilson
- Sara Allgood as Charwoman
- Glynis Johns as Mary Carr
- Amy Dalby as Hospital Nurse
- Irene Handl as Neighbour
- Maire O'Neill as Neighbour