Nightfall

(1957) director Jacques Tourneur
viewed: 07/14/10

Just released as part of a Columbia Pictures Film Noir collection, this 1957 film had two key points of interest going for me.  First, a film noir directed by one of my favorite directors, Jacques Tourneur (Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Night of the Demon (1947)).  And second, it’s adapted from a novel by a great crime fiction writer David Goodis (Dark Passage (1947), Shoot the Piano Player (1960)).

Made the same year as Night of the Demon, sadly however, the film isn’t anywhere along the lines as striking, startling, or incredible.  Rather, it’s a mediocre noir, actually suffering from a pretty illogical story.  Aldo Ray is a veteran who is on the run from some bank robbers, bank robbers from whom he’d stolen their stash sort of accidentally, when they killed his friend and tried to frame him for the murder.  And the loot is lost in a national park in Wyoming which has been snowed over for months and so unattainable by anyone.

Aldo Ray is an odd lead, with his football lineman build and his raspy voice.  He doesn’t seem like the most natural of actors.  Starring alongside Anne Bancroft, who is quite striking as the model that he meets in a bar and falls in love with, he holds his own okay.  Brian Keith is the “good” bad guy, while Rudy Bond plays the juicier villain role, the unpredictible and violent “Red”.  Character actor James Gregory has a good turn as an insurance investigator.

The film opens with its strongest visuals, the oncoming night, with the theme song “Nightfall” crooned over the soundtrack, with the neon lights popping on, giving Ray a sense of paranoia (as he is hiding out).  The film flashes back for its narrative, not the strongest of narrative styles, and not the most effective.  The story goes back to Wyoming landscapes, snow-covered and broadly contrasting to the city, yet the point of the contrast doesn’t seem particularly employed.

Kind of disappointing for me.  Tourneur has an excellent film noir to his name, 1947’s Out of the Past, which is one of the greats of the style.  But this film does fall toward the end of the period.  It’s not a fine example of anything really.  Though I’ve read some positive things about it, for me, it doesn’t feel entirely too memorable.  Oddly enough, I don’t recall much about the novel either, though I’m sure that I read it some years ago.

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