Nightfall (Cert 12)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Academy) Running Time: 79 minutes approx.
Assumptions. We all make them from time to time but often the embarrassment of them leaving us with egg on our faces could be avoided by simply asking that ill-important question, rather than demanding an answer based on a vague misconception. There are a lot of assumptions made in this noir thriller that could saved people a lot of time, and a few lives.
Jim Vanning (Aldo Ray) is a commercial artist looking for quiet drink one night when the woman in the seat next to him at the bar asks to borrow five dollars from him, having apparently lost her purse. Jim agrees and then offers to buy her dinner, learning that his date, Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft) just happens to be a model, and he has a photo shoot that needs one.
Leaving the restaurant, two men John (Brian Keith) and Red (Rudy Bond) approach Jim and having scared Marie off, take him for a ride to a quarry. They demand Jim tell them the whereabouts of $350,000 but Jim has no clue where it is. He manages to escape and heads to Marie’s address with the thugs in pursuit, forcing him and Marie on the run, during which time Jim recalls the events regarding the missing money.
Director Jacques Tourneur is best known for his cult low budget horror films Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie and Night Of The Demon, but he was also noted for his entries within the film noir oeuvre. Nightfall, based on the 1947 novel of the same name by David Goodis, is a later example of this side of Tourneur that pays more like a mystery than a spiralling dark crime thriller.
Running a very brisk 79 minutes, there is a lot of expedience in the developments of the plot that would have otherwise bogged down this fast moving drama, yet leaves forces some of the requisite credibility of the characters and their actions into the wilderness. The expectation of the audience is to go along with this and not ask any questions about it as Tourneur and screenplay writer Stirling Silliphant are not inclined to give any.
This leaves everyone thinly sketched and ambiguous to the point there is no reason they should trust each other within such a small window of acquaintance but this is the movies and that is what happens. Perhaps most representative of this is Marie, the model who can’t afford five dollars and has the front to ask a stranger for a loan then accept his offer of dinner.
In fact, Marie turns out to be the most innocent of everyone, something which is quickly shrouded in doubt once John and Red show up and imply she was working with them as a honey trap for Jim. She wasn’t but it works as a nice bit of misdirection, but sadly doesn’t last as she basically ends up the fawning companion to Jim’s desperate fugitive half-willingly caught up in his mess.
And it turns out to be quite a simple mess that isn’t as simple as it looks. John refers to Jim by a different name which causes Marie some concern but there is a reason for this which he explains once he has managed to flee from his captors. In the flashbacks, we learn how Jim came to meet John and Red in Moose, Wyoming during a fishing trip with an old doctor friend of his (Frank Albertson).
John and Jim crashed their car whilst fleeing from a bank robbery in Seattle with loot to the value of $350,000. The doctor tends to John’s injured arm but Red, the loose cannon of the duo, turns his gun on his rescuers and plots a murder-suicide to frame Jim for the doctor’s death. As ingenious as this plan sounds, it didn’t work as Jim survived whilst his attackers left with the doctor’s medicine bag, leaving Jim with the money, which he then loses in the snow.
This isn’t revealing the whole story, rather the basic framework in which Tourneur explores the folly of coincidence and assumption, the latter working on the audience as much as the cast. As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of ambiguity about the characters leading to our assumptions about them, none more so than Ben Fraser (James Gregory), a shady chap following Jim but whom is he working for?
But how much of this is coincidence and how much is fate? Were Jim and Marie fated to meet in that bar and this whole situation was designed to bring them together? After all, Jim was an artist in need of a model so what are the odds they’d meet in this bar? Unfortunately, the script doesn’t dwell on this but it is interesting to ponder given how the story develops.
Plot holes are unavoidable within this short runtime but there is more than enough happening to keep us suitably occupied that we only consider them afterwards. Tourneur may not go all out with the usual noir motifs here with a dearth of heavily shadowed tableaux but Burnett Guffey’s camerawork creates its own visual narrative through unique framing and precision of movement, especially in the final act.
Aldo Ray makes for an interesting protagonist, burly enough to be the heavy yet able to let his guard down to show some charm without diluting Jim’s resolve. Likely to prove more fascinating casting is Anne Bancroft, already with a best Actress Oscar to her name at this point yet a decade away from her defining role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Marie gives us a glance at another side of the woman behind cinema’s most celebrated cougar.
If Nightfall is guilty of anything, it is leaving us wanting more. 79 minutes is insufficient for telling a story that begs to explore much of its complexities, yet we certainly can’t accuse Tourneur of delivering an unsatisfactory film either. A delightful curio for noir fans to relish.
Original lossless mono soundtrack
English HOH Subtitles
Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman
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First Pressing only: Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ***
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