Summary: Ralph Richardson snags himself in web of criminality
"On the Night of the Fire" (1939) is a splendid and early film noir, bearing an array of the hallmarks of that category. Sir Ralph Richardson (knighted in 1947) is simply terrific as a barber who steals 100 pounds and descends into one serious predicament after another as a consequence. This is a movie that takes a simple premise and explores it in detail. A good many scenes do not advance the action, but instead explore the psychological state of Richardson's journey through his interactions with other people around him who know him. This includes his wife, sister-in-law, customers, neighborhood people, the boy who works for him, and so on. The character Richardson plays is well-written. He shows us a spectrum of human qualities, not at all one-sided, and changing from one minute and one scene to the next. This gives Richardson ample opportunity to show what a truly great actor he was.
Coming in 1939, this film has been rather overlooked as an early noir. When the history of noir is fully examined, there will be found French and British examples occurring in the late 1930s, before the 1940 landmark American example "Stranger on the Third Floor" and the 1941 "I Wake Up Screaming".