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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1938

But There Will Be Day

page 9

But There Will Be Day

There was a time when men liked their horrors crude, raw meat and blood} bones. There is even a tradition of laughing at them. Grimm's youth who travelled to learn to shiver never once shivered, though he slept with a corpse and headless bodies came tumbling down the chimney, until his wife taught him how with a bucket of ice-cold water. Ours is a more sophisticated, or a more decadent, age. And so Sawney Bean, the cannibal of Scotland, must make way for Danny of "Night Must Fall."

"Night Must Fall" was a successful play and a successful film, and will be forgotten within a few years. It gave Robert Montgomery in the film version the opportunity to prove that he was a superb actor, chained to the part of playboy by producers with an eye to an established box-office appeal. It presented a completely convincing and frightful picture of homicidal mania. It had its physical horrors, but they were concealed. Danny kept the head of his murdered woman in a hat-box, though Judith brandished the head of Holofernes the tyrant for all the world to see. But the real terror of "Night Must Fall" was psychological, the attraction of beauty to corruption and to madness, for night must fall, and in that night there will be neither beauty nor kindness nor laughter, but only fear, the fear of those who are weak and who want power and who can use power only for destruction and defilement. This atmosphere was created in "Night Must Fall" with consummate success. But it will be forgotten, and we can be thankful.

For "Night Must Fall" could not have such an effect on any of us, if it did not contain something that corresponded to the real experience of us all. It is, in a manner of speaking, an allegory, completely unconscious as far as its authors and actors are concerned, but nevertheless a reflex of the world around us. In the minds of men the phantastic reflection of reality takes on the most monstrous forms. Even the literature of escape is an escape from something real. In times when the world was less sick, men told allegories knowing the real meaning that they wrapped in their fancies to make it more attractive, and making it clear for the world to see. Giant Despair was despair made flesh. Today it is less easy for men to give to conscious artistic expression to the world around them unless their vision is clear enough to seek a new art and a new class which is its banner-bearer.

In fact, during the decade in which "Night Must Fall" was written and produced, night has already fallen over a great part of Europe and the world. Danny is installed with his hat-box and his butcher's knife in the Chancelleries of Europe, and has been engaged as personal adviser to the Mikado.

page 10

Our eyes are becoming accustomed to the darkness. We are even getting used to Danny's jokes, and are forgetting our repulsion when he first moved in. That is part of the horror of it.

Let us see what is happening in the night.

In Berlin old men are spat upon and turned out from their homes to starve because they belong to a different race from Danny, who wears a swastika on his arm-band. In Bucharest there are girl students, belonging to the same race, who are beaten mercilessly in the cloak-rooms by their fellow-students, and dare not speak, because there is no justice for them in Rumania.

In Barcelona, during the air raids of this March, the fire hoses were brought out because there was no other way of cleaning the shambles that had been streets.

There is in Spain a village called Granollers, a village with one street and a market place where the peasants brought their produce. Women and children were waiting in a food queue, until death swooped on them from the air. There were no military objectives in Granollers, but Danny was in the air, and it was necessary to test his new bombs.

In the play Danny had to conceal his crime, while the fear of discovery hung over him. But in Rome today he may write books, and enjoy the fullest measure of his gratification. "I got only mediocre effects, perhaps because I was expecting enormous explosions like in American films, whereas the little Abyssinian homes, made of withies and rushes, give no satisfaction to anyone bombing them. The little incendiary bombs give satisfaction; at any rate one sees fire and smoke. We conscientiously burned the whole of the zone. But there were no inhabitants left." This is from a book by Vittorio Mussolini, describing his experiences in Abyssinia. It is recommended for use in Italian schools.

Often, though, the real Danny lies. When he sends wave after wave of his bombers over Canton and Hankow, destroying the hospitals and schools, it is for the purpose of teaching the Chinese "co-operation" and defending them against the Red menace.

In Danny's Spain and Danny's China there is one death warrant which you can carry with you. It is the calluses on your hands which show you are a worker, as in the days when the soldiery of M. Thiers entered Paris of the Commune.

Yes, we have travelled very far on the journey to the end of the night.

But we should remember this. Danny is weak and at heart a coward. He is eternally play-acting and posturing, whooping himself up as a hell of a fellow, because within himself he is horribly afraid. He faints with terror when he page 11 thinks he may be arrested. At the end, as the police draw near to the house, he fears the thousands of eyes around him. That is a true allegory, too. He does not like to be reminded of Guadalajara and Taierchwang.

Then there is the old lady who thinks he is such a nice boy, and laughs at his jokes and scouts all suspicion, even while Danny, rocking her to sleep, is planning to murder her in the night. Mrs. Bramson exists also in our world. She presides over Non-intervention Committees, and writes letters to the daily press urging favourable consideration for Hitler's colonial claims, and pleads with passion the "wrongs" of Sudeten Germans. Such a stupid and selfish old woman! But she was murdered because she had money, and because Danny grew to like killing and wanted the power that money could buy.

What of the most tragic figure of the play, Olivia, who knew that Danny was a murderer but kept silent, because he spoke of adventure and love, and against herself she was attracted to him and loved him? She also belongs to our world. She is the prototype of all those who know and keep silent, of those who could save life but run the risk of meeting death in the night because their nerve fails them. She even teaches in the Universities that silence is the best policy, and moreover, in accordance with all the most sacred academic traditions. But unless you fight against corruption, you will become yourself corrupted. Bukharin fancied himself as Goebbels before the end.

It is a good allegory, if you choose to look at it in a way that the authors did not intend, but it will be forgotten. For the night will not last.

Night must fall. Yes, but there will be dawn. Already over one-sixth part of the world there is broad daylight. In the dimmest twilight of the dawn elsewhere, the infantrymen of democracy are rallying now even against tanks, because they know that the day will break soon.

C. G. Watson.