Friday, June 14, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Nightfall (1957)

NIGHTFALL (1957) was one of the movies introduced by the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller while hosting TCM's Friday Night Spotlight series this evening.

I'd never seen NIGHTFALL before, and it was a hit with me starting with the gorgeous opening credits, especially as the film unexpectedly proved to be a treasure trove of familiar locations.

The movie starts out with Jim Vanning (Aldo Ray) browsing at a newsstand and being startled as the lights of nearby businesses go on for the evening. The newsstand, at least from some angles, appears to be the newsstand which is located on Las Palmas next to the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood; the same newsstand is seen in GUN CRAZY (1950). The location would seem to be confirmed as the neon lights of Miceli's Italian Restaurant go on; Miceli's is located immediately across the street from the newsstand. Robby just wrote about Miceli's recently at Dear Old Hollywood.

Jim chats with a mysterious man (James Gregory), meets a brunette (Anne Bancroft) while sitting at a bar, and then is accosted by two scary-looking men (Brian Keith and Rudy Bond). The men drive Jim to a deserted oil field where they threaten him with torture and death if he doesn't tell them the location of a bag with $350,000. Gradually, via a series of flashbacks which alternate with current-day sequences, Jim's predicament becomes clear.

This was a terrific movie, directed by Jacques Tourneur of OUT OF THE PAST (1947). Early on I started musing that the film's Wyoming setting looked an awful lot like California's Eastern High Sierras; I should have made the Tourneur connection immediately, as that's where Tourneur shot OUT OF THE PAST a decade earlier.

Late in the film, when Jim talks with Ben (Gregory) near what is said to be a church, I thought, "I could swear that's the schoolhouse in Bridgeport back when it was located on School Street." The schoolhouse was moved to the town park in the '60s and is now the Mono County Museum.

Thanks to the fantastic movie location blog The Great Silence, my hunch was confirmed; this screen shot of the schoolhouse is taken from The Great Silence, and I highly recommend clicking over and visiting that blog. There's a whole series of posts there on NIGHTFALL locations; it turns out that the key murder in the film takes place at Upper Twin Lake outside of Bridgeport, where Robert Mitchum is seen fishing early in OUT OF THE PAST. (For more on the OUT OF THE PAST locations, please visit my photo post Out of the Past in Bridgeport, California, which was later adapted into an article for the Dark Pages film noir newsletter.) Given how much I love Bridgeport, seeing it onscreen really made the movie for me -- but beyond the locations, it's a darn good film.

The screenplay by Sterling Silliphant is based on a novel by David Goodiss, and it's very well constructed, sliding easily back and forth in time. The relationship between Jim and Marie (Bancroft) develops naturally and believably; he's such a lovable guy that it's easy to believe Marie would be more charmed than disturbed to find herself on the run with him. I really liked Aldo Ray in this; truth to tell, I've never cared for Anne Bancroft, but she does a good job in this and creates an appealing character.

Jim and Marie's story is nicely backstopped with tender home scenes between Ben, who turns out to be an insurance investigator, and his wife Laura (Jocelyn Brando), as he explains his take on the case to her. These scenes are also a clever way to fill in some story gaps and further explain Jim's character, and the narrative shortcuts help keep the film to a brisk 78 minutes.

The film's romance and humor are in stark contrast to a truly disturbing execution-style murder which lets the viewer know that the bad guys mean business and are playing for keeps. Yet despite that, one of the lightest scenes in the movie finds the two baddies stalking Marie at a Robinsons fashion show, a highlight of the movie.

NIGHTFALL ranks with CRIME WAVE (1954) as the most visually interesting and beautifully photographed film I've seen this year. Burnett Guffey's photography of snowy exteriors calls to mind the look of the great ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952), and there's also wonderful photography around the Los Angeles area. This is one of those movies that is so good-looking that it would be interesting to watch even if the sound were off.

NIGHTFALL is available on DVD in the set Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II. It can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

It also had a release on VHS.

Jacques Tourneur films previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944), CANYON PASSAGE (1946), EASY LIVING (1949), CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951), and STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (1955).

I watch over a couple hundred films annually and enjoy the vast majority of them on various levels, but you just never know when you'll run into a real treat of a movie which is especially enjoyable and memorable. This was one of them.

Update: Here's a 2014 post on the movie's locations in Bridgeport.


Blogger Silver Screenings said...

Well, am feeling like a dope because I watched the riveting first 20 minutes, then had to leave...AND DID NOT SET MY DVR! Oh boy. Next time, I'm going to pick up where I left off.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Oh, dear, I hope you can finish it next time it's shown! This movie was, as you describe, riveting. What a fun movie, in so many ways.

Best wishes,

2:09 PM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Wow! If it comes with such high praise from you Laura then I HAVE to see it. I just added it to my Netflix queue.

It must be nice to have familiarity with California locations and to recognize them in the movies you watch. Hardly any early films were shot in the Boston area!

5:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll find it enjoyable too, Raquel!

It really is fun to spot favorite places in movies -- especially Bridgeport, a place which is so special to me.

I like seeing Boston in movies too, as I've really enjoyed my visits to your area!

Best wishes,

5:25 PM  

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