For the fifth book on my 2014 Summer Classic Film Book Reading List I chose JACQUES TOURNEUR: THE CINEMA OF NIGHTFALL by Chris Fujiwara.
With the exception of CANYON PASSAGE (1946) and OUT OF THE PAST (1947), both of which I first saw a decade or more ago, my acquaintance with the work of director Jacques Tourneur has all come within roughly the last four years.
Watching a dozen of Tourneur's films, including a revisit to CANYON PASSAGE last year, has been a rich viewing experience. His movies are beautifully staged, blending countless details, such as the endless bits of bric a brac seen in EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) or the pleasantly stuffed British homes of CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951), with panoramic vistas such as the Oregon landscapes of CANYON PASSAGE (1946), the unforgettable opening of Joel McCrea riding across the prairie in WICHITA (1955), or CIRCLE OF DANGER's windswept Scottish heath.
Tourneur's films are not meant to be watched casually, as there are complex relationships to untangle, with story and emotions sometimes revealed only through visuals. Taken as a group, I think of his films as having a thoughtful, intelligent air, and they provide very rewarding viewing. I have yet to see a Tourneur film I didn't like.
Fujiwara's book deepens the experience of enjoying Tourneur's films, providing a film-by-film analysis of each Tourneur movie. I knew I would enjoy the book when I first turned to the relatively unsung EXPERIMENT PERILOUS, which really began my interest in Tourneur, and found that Fujiwara described it as "Sadly neglected and often underrated, this is one of Tourneur's most personal and beautiful films." Having fallen in love with the movie myself at the 2010 Noir City Film Festival, I was thus ready to read on, feeling in sync with the author.
Fujiwara looks closely at each film's "precisely judged details of performance, decor, and composition" -- those words come from his description of WICHITA -- and helps explain what distinguishes Tourneur's work, as well as providing interesting analysis of characters and relationships. I didn't agree with each and every point, but I found reading the book quite valuable and thought-provoking.
I saved the chapters on the Tourneur films I've not yet seen, keeping the book handy to read when I see films such as STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), WAY OF A GAUCHO (1952), and APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS (1953). I'm also going to reread the OUT OF THE PAST (1947) chapter when I revisit it in the immediate future thanks to the new Warner Archive Blu-ray.
JACQUES TOURNEUR: THE CINEMA OF NIGHTFALL was published by McFarland. It's a softcover book which runs 328 pages including the index. It's well-illustrated with photos printed directly on the pages. Some of the images are sharper than others but they all serve well to illustrate the films.
A recommended read.
Jacques Tourner films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939), PHANTOM RAIDERS (1940), 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), STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (1955), WICHITA (1955), and NIGHTFALL (1957). (Update: Here's an additional review of STARS IN MY CROWN.)
Related posts on Jacques Tourneur's location work in the Sierras: Out of the Past (1947) in Bridgeport, California and Bridgeport, California Movie Locations.