Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall

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 are additional reviews of STARS IN MY CROWN and BERLIN EXPRESS.)

Related posts on Jacques Tourneur's location work in the Sierras: Out of the Past (1947) in Bridgeport, California and Bridgeport, California Movie Locations.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

We'll make an auteurist of you yet, Laura. (grin)

Glad you saved the "Stars in My Crown" chapter until after seeing the movie (on your list for this year). I'd been hoping you'd see that before reading what he writes.

I think you made a good choice of a director study since you have seen a lot of Tourneur and were clear in your own mind that you liked him and many of the reasons why. Not to mention that you yourself made the OUT OF THE PAST/NIGHTFALL connection in your travels to Bridgeport.

Few director studies as good as this one among the many I've read. I hope you've encouraged others here to read it if they haven't.

5:46 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

I agree about EXPERIMENT PERILOUS. A nifty little movie.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Blake! Your admiration for Tourneur has been part of my impetus to keep exploring his films; as I've enjoyed each one you keep mentioning more good ones still ahead of me to see! :) Looking forward to STARS IN MY CROWN in the fairly near future. (Hope to put a nice dent in my "10 Classics" list in September!)

Like you I hope others who are interested in Tourneur will pick up this book.

DforDoom, delighted to know you enjoyed EXPERIMENT PERILOUS as well.

Best wishes,

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review . Definitely a book I will seek out.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll enjoy it, Vienna! :)

Best wishes,

8:47 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Excellent review! It's also encouraging me to try more Tourneur films. Besides Out of the Past, I haven't seen much else but I should!

3:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel!

You might like to try Tourneur's other "Bridgeport" film first, NIGHTFALL -- it also features Miceli's, the restaurant right next door to the Egyptian Theatre. :) But you can't go wrong with any of his movies. I'd love to know what you think if you try more of his films. I highly recommend the book to go with the viewing.

Best wishes,

12:27 AM  

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