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Jacques Tourneur's NIGHTFALL (1957) Fri Sept 14


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A major heads up for one of the most anxiously anticipated (be me) TCM premieres of the year: the spellbinding 1957 film noir NIGHTFALL. Based on a novel by David Goodis ("Dark Passage," "Shoot The Piano Player," etc) the film stars Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith, James Gregory and Rudy Bond. TCM airs it on Friday, September 14.

 

Stylishly directed by Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST) the film tells of the plight of an innocent man plunged into a nightmarish scenario when he becomes the object of pursuit by both the cops and a pair of sadistic killers over the whereabouts of a cache of stolen money. Tourneur, through the clever weaving of flashbacks, unfolds the story in a most dazzling fashion, never letting the tension ease for a moment.

 

Literally a near-forgotten film, NIGHTFALL has never been available on home video. Those fortunate to have caught the film back in the mid-90s when it played San Francisco's Roxie Cinema in one of their groundbraking film noir festivals, became diehard fans overnight. Its appearance on TCM provides ample reason for rejoicing among true noir completists.

 

Anyone familiar with the dark and despairing novels of David Goodis will no doubt be drawn into the dire world of NIGHTFALL's protagonist, Jim Vanning (Aldo Ray). Ray's compelling portrait of a tough man on the brink of utter desperation (a common thread in Goodis' fiction) is a revelation--as honest a depiction of a tortured hero as 1950s American cinema has provided, underscoring the fact that Aldo Ray remains one of our most interesting and least appreciated actors. The gorgeous Anne Bancroft (in an early starring role) adds considerable spice as a mysterious woman who unexpectedly stumbles into Ray's world. Brian Keith and Rudy Bond score big as the heavies, etching incredibly memorable performances. Bond is especially impressive; a giggling sadist capable of unspeakable violence without the slightest provocation. James Gregory (the unctious and corrupt Senator Iselin from "The Manchurian Candidate") represents the right side of the law. The grounded contrast he provides lends an air of unusual realism to an otherwise (gloriously) far-fetched story. The wonderful blues singer Al Hibbler croons the title tune; a haunting melody that drives the film along.

 

Tourneur directed only a handful of noir films (OUT OF THE PAST and THE LEOPARD MAN chief among them); NIGHTFALL, while not necessarily the equal of OUT OF THE PAST shares many of that film's virtues while carving it's own unique path. One of my personal all-time favorites, I can't recommend this film highly enough: 5 BIG STARS on the Dewey-Meter.

 

Message was edited by: Dewey1960

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Dewey1960 said: Tourneur directed only a handful of noir films (OUT OF THE PAST and THE LEOPARD MAN chief among them); NIGHTFALL, while not necessarily the equal of OUT OF THE PAST shares many of that film's virtues while carving it's own unique path. One of my personal all-time favorites, I can't recommend this film highly enough: 5 BIG STARS on the Dewey-Meter.

 

Wow -- 5 stars for "Nightfall" -- and big ones at that. Your recommendation of "Black Angel" was spot on (I'm now the proud owner of that on DVD) so I've already set my VCR to record this gem. Thank you so much for the heads-up.

 

Di

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Hi Di -

I doubt you'll be disappointed in NIGHTFALL (although you never know, given the highly subjective nature of these things) as it's a beautifully dark and well-realized film, despite its apparently modest budget. What impresses most about this film, I think, is the utter devotion to visual perfection demonstrated by director Jacques Tourneur and his cinematographer, Burnett Guffey. It really is a gem. I'll be looking forward to your comments once you've seen it.

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Just pitching in with another shout for Nightfall. This is a seriously neglected film, and I would suggest unforgettable. From the opening scene - night falling like a hammer while Aldo Ray noses sadly around a newsstand on the frayed edges of LA - to the closing, incredible, snowplough battle, it's a spellbinding movie.

 

There are some similarities with Out of the Past - most obviously the flashback structure - but Ray's bewildered bear is far less iconic than Mitchum's fatalist gumshoe. The killers are extraordinary, too: Rudy Bond is a sick, perverted psycho, while Brain Keith casually tosses in one of his greatest performances: ambivalent, unfathomable, reluctant, weary of everything. You begin to realise that the pair of them hate each other, much like the killers in Fargo (did the Coens lift the snowscapes from this film?) And Anne Bancroft is at her most subtle, alert and beautiful. An unbelievable, very believable girl.

 

Astonishing landscapes, too - country, city, modernist hotel, shabby backlot. The city scenes are best, however. Tourneur captures a feeling of loneliness in this movie that has not been matched.

 

See it!

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Thanks Dewey and Lou for the glowing endorsement of *Nightfall*. I've never seen it. I was going to tape it because I'm interested in watching the films made by the protege's of Val Lewton: Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, and Mark Robson. Tourneur is quite easily the most stylish of the three.

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Lou: Thanks for your extremely well-observed comments on NIGHTFALL. Truly a pleasure knowing there are others out there who know and appreciate this largely unheralded jewel. It wouldn't surprise me that, after a few showings on TCM, this film quickly acquires the reputation it has long been denied. Sony (Columbia) should be ashamed for sitting on NIGHTFALL for so long.

 

Frank: I'm sure you'll find (as others before you have) that Tourneur was not only the most stylish of the Lewton alumni, but ultimately the most thematically resonant and poetically astute. Robert Wise certainly had the most outwardly successful career of the three, with a boatload of commercial and critical blockbusters--although for me personally, his biggest, most popular films are pretty bland and fairly unwatchable. (Strip away Jerome Robbins' stunning choregoraphy and the wondeful Bernstein-Sondheim score from WEST SIDE STORY and you're left with a mawkish and mediocre juvenile delinquent movie.) Mark Robson, despite some reasonably interesting films along the way, was a fairly clumsy director without much of a visual style. Even the films he did for Lewton, entertaining as they may be, are pretty flat.

 

Dewey1960

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Glad to be aboard.

 

Yep, I'd agree that Tourneur is quite easily the most gifted director of the Lewton unit; he was in a different league from Wise and Robson, one of the most poetically gifted and idiosyncratic filmmakers in 1940s and 1950s Hollywood. He was certainly on a roll in 1957, too - he made his incredible, slight-return to Lewton, NIGHT OF THE DEMON in the UK the same year. Of his lesser-known movies, I'd also recommend his UK-shot CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951), starring Ray Miland though it's pretty hard to track down. This isn't anywhere near as good a movie as Nightfall of Tourneur's most famous films, but it has a unique, bare, pregnant atmosphere about it, and sticks in the memory. Anything the guy ever made is worth tracking down though (especially his Twilight Zone episode, "NIGHT CALL.")

 

I agree with you, Dewey, about many of Wise's better-known, big budget movies (though I'm a sucker for West Side Story - especially the title sequence). Siince we're in the Noir forum, though, I would make a strong case for his early work in the field: BORN TO KILL (1947), starring Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor is simply one of the most rabid movies ever shot, ferocious. Same goes for his noir Mitchum western BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948). And, of course, there's the seminal SET-UP (1949). Later in his career, the noir-reprise ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1969) is a strikingly interesting movie, with a unique, wintry feel and unhinged work from the mighty Robert Ryan and the eternal Harry Belafonte. (And great titles sequence again)

 

With the exception of CHAMPION and HARDER THEY FALL, Mark Robson, IMO didn't do anything worth seeking out after he left Lewton. However, working under Lewton's close watch, he did direct what I feel is the outright masterpiece of the Lewton horror cycle, THE SEVENTH VICTIM; it doesn't have quite the layered, shadowy visual poetry of Tourneur, but it's an unbelievable and unforgettable movie.

 

By the way: I've posted elsewhere about a long-lost novel by Sam Fuller that is about to be republished in a new edition. By coincidence, the publishing company who are putting out the Fuller book also recently republished one of the novels Val Lewton wrote before going into movies, NO BED OF HER OWN. (www.kinglybooks.com). I'd urge anyone interested in Lewton's work to seek it out....

 

And don't miss Nightfall!

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Yes, I agree with your assessment of Wise's late 40s noir output, especially BORN TO KILL. This no doubt could be attributed to his association at RKO with Welles and Lewton. It really wasn't until much later that his films seemed to lose their visual vitality (although I realize that there will be many who fervently disagree). And yes, BLOOD ON THE MOON is a great, noir western, deserving of a wider appreciation than it apparently has.

 

As for Robson, I would also agree that THE SEVENTH VICTIM is a wonderful and evocative film (my personal favorite of the non-Tourneurs). But one has to wonder what additional poetry might have been invested in this film had Tourneur directed it.

 

Another terrific Tourneur film is THE FEARMAKERS (recently aired on TCM), an exciting cold-war thriller from 1958 starring Dana Andrews which pre-dates the theme of Korean War brainwashing popularized in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE by four years.

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Dewey & Lou -- The primary reason why Robert Wise and Mark Robson interest me are their thematics. Wise and Robson speak my language when it comes to social and global consciousness. I haven't seen enough of Jacques Tourneur's films to know if he had a similar sense.

 

The majority of Wise's films feature strong statements. He rarely made films just for the heck of it. He's often remembered for *West Side Story* and *The Sound of Music*, but those are not the films I think of first with Wise. His canon runs deeper than most realize. I'd advise anyone to tune in to TCM this Monday for Wise's b-day salute. You'll see quite a few good films that day.

 

I had the same blase' feeling about Robson until I saw two films: *The Bridges at Toko-Ri* and *Edge of Doom*. Those two films helped raised my Robson interest level. I taped *Return to Paradise* last month and I did happen to catch a few scenes. Once again, the theme of the film interested me. The film lacked a visual style, though.

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I doubt that you'll find that much overt social consciousness being expressed in Tourneur's films--although I suppose you could if you looked hard enough. Tourneur seems to have been more concerned with emotional issues that exist on a purely personal level, often times much harder to deal with than sweeping universalities.

 

One of the curious dilemmas contained in his film THE LEOPARD MAN is the way the issue of individual complicity is handled regarding Dennis O'Keefe's moral (if not legal) responsibility for unleashing the leopard into the community in the first place. His callous disregard for the safety of others (leading to at least one death: the young girl returning home at night with the flour) is never forcibly exploited; he isn't expected to reform, he merely does. In OUT OF THE PAST, the young deaf mute provides spiritual salvation for Ann (Virginia Huston), the "good" girl who truly loves Mitchum, by intentionally lying to her when he indicates that ol' Mitch was really meaning to run off with Jane Greer at thet end--thereby saving her from a lifetime of morbid preoccupation. These are highly sophisticated and important personal issues, and Tourneur blends them into his narratives in the most artfully subtle ways. The primacy of the visual.

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Hey, Dewey -- Tourneur seems to have been more concerned with emotional issues that exist on a purely personal level, often times much harder to deal with than sweeping universalities.

 

I most definitely agree. Tourneur possessed the ability to tap into the sensuality of film far better than Wise and Robson. Tourneur's films, or at least the one's I've been fortunate enough to see, effortlessly enter one's emotional being. It is why the Tourneur-Lewton connection was the strongest. Lewton's dark poetry mixed with Tourneur's seductively dark visuals produced a mystical cocktail that I love to consume.

 

In OUT OF THE PAST, the young deaf mute provides spiritual salvation for Ann (Virginia Huston), the "good" girl who truly loves Mitchum, by intentionally lying to her when he indicates that ol' Mitch was really meaning to run off with Jane Greer at thet end--thereby saving her from a lifetime of morbid preoccupation. These are highly sophisticated and important personal issues, and Tourneur blends them into his narratives in the most artfully subtle ways. The primacy of the visual.

 

What you speak of is why I consider the ending of *Out of the Past* to be one of the greatest in film noir history. Tragically beautiful. I actually get a little emotional.

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Gents,

 

I agree. Across his work (with the exception of his very last movies, the Italian GIANT OF MARATHON and his Corman films CITY UNDER THE SEA and COMEDY OF TERRORS, although the last is a slightly guilty pleasure for its cast alone) Tourneur communicated a consistant sensibility, a highly personal take on the world and, if you will, existence. In his movies, you are repeatedly confronted with the sense of other, unseen forces at work behind the story - in some cases, the supernatural, but more broadly a feeling of fate, destiny, time - forces that push the characters around. They are oblivious to it, and yet they seem burdened, haunted by a nagging,dim awareness of it at some level. The beauty of the man is that he managed to find a direct visual counterpart for this sensibilty, composition with an elusive, enigmatic air, shots pregnant with the shimmering idea of something just about to appear or change or reveal itself, that never quite does.

 

That said, I think there are stong social themes in a lot of his movies. If you look at CANYON PASSAGE, there you have one of the archetypal Western themes, the conflict between an individual and his community, and how that relationship elvoves and changes. The film also has a very acute eye for knotty social relationships in general. Tourneur also, consistantly, avoided stereotype when it came to presenting black characters; indeed, in his movies, black actors were allowed to play indivuduals, people rather than "black characters." He didn't make a show of it, didn't make a message out of it, it just flowed naturally, in the Lewton movies and also Out of the Past - see how Micthum banters with the sublime Theresa Harris in the Harlem nightclub (whose owner is presented as "an old friend" of the Mitchum character.)

 

With Robert Wise, I reckon he had so many big hits in his career that, paradoxically, it gets in the way of people seeing how good so many of his slightly lesser-known films are, the early noirs etc. The thing I find with his "message movies," however, compared with something like Canyon Passage, is that the message is laid right on the top there, so that you can't possibly miss it: DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL = anti-war; ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW = anti-racism, etc. It's a wee bit obvious. But then again, why not make it obvious? The message needed delivered, especially in the US of the 1950s. Even if I find the messaging over emphatic, I still love both of these films, especialy ODDS.

 

Mark Robson - maybe I need to give more of his films a chance. I haven't seen Toko-Ri for a long time. I tend to think of him as more of a skilled journeyman who followed the script he was handed, rather than someone who brought any kind of personal sensibility to a movie project. Once again, though, I come up against the paradox that he directed one of my favourite ever movies, SEVENTH VICTIM. But I have no doubts that Val Lewton was the auteur behind that; if you track down the copy of the shooting script that is available online, you will see that Lewton (who, often uncredited, wrote the final draft of every script his unit shot), you will see that he has written in every ounce of atmosphere in the film.

 

Even as a fan of many Wise films, I also have very mixed feelings about him, because he and Robson turned around and utterly betrayed Lewton and in the most heinous manner. He more or less started and certainly nurtured their careers, building them into directors, and following the end of the RKO unit, he launched an independent producing unit with them. One day soon into it, lawyers turned up at Lewton's office announcing that his proteges had decided to kick him out. Pretty shabby. Lewton died not too long after. But that's Hollywood.

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Both Wise and Robson each contributed fine films set in the world of boxing. Wise's THE SET UP (1949) has a great reputation among noir enthusiasts as a stunning example of mise en scene compliments of Milton Krasner's ruggedly beautiful cinematography and Robert Ryan's brilliant performance as Stoker Ace. Much as I admire this film, though, I have come to appreciate Mark Robson's THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956) much more over time. It has a flat tone and an appropriately dingy look, but it succeeds tremendously in its telling of a dramatically charged story about the devastating corruption at the heart of the boxing racket. Bogart is exceptionally good as the weary and disillusioned sports writer (it was to be his final film role); a wonderfully melancholy postscript to an extraordinary career. THE HARDER THEY FALL airs on Turner tomorrow morning (Tuesday the 11th). Both films can be easily seen as very anti-boxing and, along with Ralph Nelson's 1962 film version of Rod Serling's REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, form an interesting triad in this vein.

 

Jacques Tourneur never directed a film about boxing, but he did make EASY LIVING (1949) about an aging professional football player (Victor Mature) and the two women in his life (Lizabeth Scott and Lucille Ball). It's an excellent RKO picture and it turns up on TCM from time to time.

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Lou -- In his movies, you are repeatedly confronted with the sense of other, unseen forces at work behind the story - in some cases, the supernatural, but more broadly a feeling of fate, destiny, time - forces that push the characters around.

 

Excellent description of Tourneur's best films.

 

The thing I find with his "message movies," however, compared with something like Canyon Passage, is that the message is laid right on the top there, so that you can't possibly miss it: DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL = anti-war; ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW = anti-racism, etc. It's a wee bit obvious. But then again, why not make it obvious? The message needed delivered, especially in the US of the 1950s. Even if I find the messaging over emphatic, I still love both of these films, especialy ODDS.

 

I agree. Wise's films were rather transparent. The message was rarely hidden, it was there for all to see. *The Sand Pebbles* is a film where I think the anti-war message doesn't reveal itself until later in the film. *The Haunting* is the most oblique of Wise's films. Well, of the Wise films that I have seen.

 

Mark Robson - maybe I need to give more of his films a chance. I haven't seen Toko-Ri for a long time. I tend to think of him as more of a skilled journeyman who followed the script he was handed, rather than someone who brought any kind of personal sensibility to a movie project.

 

My guess is that I will also arrive at this thought in time. *Edge of Doom* is the film that really made me think about taking a closer look at Robson. It's a stylish film. Robson will not match Tourneur or Wise in my eyes, but I'm curious to see if he's better than my prejudgment.

 

Even as a fan of many Wise films, I also have very mixed feelings about him, because he and Robson turned around and utterly betrayed Lewton and in the most heinous manner. He more or less started and certainly nurtured their careers, building them into directors, and following the end of the RKO unit, he launched an independent producing unit with them. One day soon into it, lawyers turned up at Lewton's office announcing that his proteges had decided to kick him out. Pretty shabby. Lewton died not too long after. But that's Hollywood.

 

Yet again, I agree. Lewton gave Wise and Robson their shot at directing and they ended up slamming the door in his face when he desperately needed a helping hand. Pretty cruel. Ironically, Wise was arguably one of the nicest directors ever.

 

Dewey -- Much as I admire this film , though, I have come to appreciate Mark Robson's THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956) much more over time.

 

Better than The Set-Up? Now that's high praise. I'm going to tape *The Harder They Fall* tonight. I also taped *Champion* last week. I'm not sure when I'll get to these films since I've got bangers like *In a Lonely Place* and *Nightmare Alley* ready to roll.

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It's off the schedule now. Let's hope it gets rescheduled for December.

 

TCM will be honoring Jane Wyman, who passed away Monday morning. Please join us on Friday as we celebrate the career of this distinguished actress.

 

Friday, September 14 (all times ET)

 

6:00 AM The Doughgirls (?44)

7:45 AM The Lost Weekend (?45)

9:30 AM Cheyenne (?47)

11:15 AM Johnny Belinda (?48)

1:00 PM The Lady Takes a Sailor (?49)

2:45 PM A Kiss in the Dark (?49)

4:15 PM Here Comes the Groom (?51)

6:15 PM Let?s Do It Again (?53)

 

We apologize for any inconvenience or confusion caused by these changes.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I hope that I don't end up eating my words (again) when I physically see it, but I picked up a one-sheet for *Nightfall* (among others, including *One Minute to Zero* ) yesterday at an auction. In VG shape. Cost: $0.99.

 

There is a God.

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NIGHTFALL is a terrific little movie. Used to turn up on late night TV in Chicago. (And people teased me about staying up all night!) Oddly, the character I most remember is Brian Keith's bad guy. He played it well.

 

Always happy to throw in a vote for OUT OF THE PAST. This masterpiece is the epitome of noir. Not to say it's any better than MALTESE FALCON or DOUBLE INDEMNITY. But it's everything the genre represents. Choices. Consequences. Gray areas. If I taught a film noir class, I'd show this movie.

 

RR

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redriver said: "Always happy to throw in a vote for OUT OF THE PAST...If I taught a film noir class, I'd show this movie."

 

Hey Red -

That's funny; I periodically teach a class on film noir and OUT OF THE PAST is included each time I do. It usually winds up being the class favorite (sometimes tied with ON DANGEROUS GROUND). It's one of those truly great films that offers up interesting rewards each time you see it. Glad, too that you're a fan of Tourneur's NIGHTFALL. You're right: Brian Keith is memorable in that film (as are Rudy Bond as his henchman and Aldo Ray as the reluctant hero). Once NIGHTFALL becomes more widely seen by noir fans, it's certain to become an instant rediscovered classic!

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