Saturday, March 18, 2017

NIGHTFALL (1956)


This Columbia Pictures release stars Aldo Ray, James Gregory, Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith. Television’s everyman, Rudy Bond, has a standout role, one of only a few films he made, three of which starred Marlon Brando. His sister, Joceyln Brando, plays Gregory’s wife. This fits into the little known “B+ movie” category because of top notch performances, solid cinematography and direction by Jacques Tourneur. His use of seamless flashbacks provide the most interesting segments of this film. However, despite his success with “Out of the Past,” Tourneur’s directing here can be a little uneven. One cannot fault the studio art department for slacking on the promotion of the film. Of note is the yellow teaser text in the poster.

I found Stirling Silliphant’s script ponderous at times. Many segments go by slowly with a lot of character development dialogue. It took awhile to figure what was up with Ray's character, whether he was innocent or guilty of something. His incessant vague comments about the source of his troubles barely squeezes through. The homey scenes with Gregory revealing to his wife how his insurance investigation is progressing ate up a lot of film for a character we do not need to know that much background. Then, Keith’s extended cat and mouse verbal threatening of Ray is also a frame eater. Thankfully, flashbacks make sense of why Ray is being hunted, how he, Keith and Bond collided and why the latter two cannot find their stolen loot.


I was not buying “truck-driving” Ray as a freelance commercial artist. I could have supported Bancroft as a Montgomery-Ward catalog model, however. The novel that the film is based on may be the culprit. Bancroft's first appearance with Ray in a local bar is also a wee cumbersome until thieves and noir-do-wells, Keith and Bond, enter the picture. Their abduction of Ray was a surprise. None more so than for Ray, who thinks Bancroft set him up. She thought they were police.


Keith once again seems to be holding himself back from a sudden outburst of violence. A one-dimensional character played well with clamped jaw. But it is Bond...Rudy Bond, (second from left above) who steals the film as the sadist who enjoys killing people by games of (no) chance. His laugh from an individual with a screw loose upstairs. I imagine him watching Wile E. Coyote cartoons endlessly―as an adult―always laughing hysterically at every pratfall, however repetitive. His demise is well worth waiting for. Then, there is a lot of waiting in this film. Waiting for Ray and Bancroft to become an item. Waiting for Gregory to explain himself to Ray. Waiting for Keith and Bond to come to an understanding and waiting for that snow plow to make itself useful. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

BEHIND THE HIGH WALL (1956)


You will want to overlook the familiar script in this Universal International production. Just enjoy the superb acting of the lead actors. It is another prison break story of a good guy gone bad, destroyed by temptation and a doomed driveway. More about the latter, later.

Accomplices on the outside facilitate a prison escape, kill a guard and kidnap the warden, Tom Tully, and force an inmate, John Gavin, to accompany them. A car crash kills everyone except the aforementioned. Considering their short screen time, the other actors were just happy to be given a role. Before the police arrive, Tully buries the gang's money with a plan to finally live in financial peace. If that is not dishonest enough, he shamefully attempts to pin the guard’s murder on Gavin by uncomfortably never coming to his defense.


Flawlessly, Tully catapults from supporting to lead actor without a hitch. He is excellent as a prison warden with financial problems, a crippled wife, and decisions that change his life through layers of lies. Tully’s understated and subtle performance―his tender voice when trying to comfort his wife―reflected an actor of great range. Sylvia Sidney's role as the wheelchair-bound wife seems a good choice. An interesting detail is that she is able to drive her car equipped with handicap controls. Not common in any movie of the era. Continuing to work after her debut may attest to Sidney's flexibility as an actress. Yet she was never confused with any of her more attractive peers. She certainly had a face for radio. Even though her wrinkles had multiplied twelve-fold―oddly, still wheelchair-bound―she carried on forty years later in “Mars Attacks!”

John Gavin gives a solid performance but the handsome actor, with a face fresh from a J.C. Leyendecker Arrow Shirt illustration, is out of place in this role of a down-and-out loser. With his snarling upper lip, Elvis Presley would have worked better. If Gavin was ideally cast, then his girlfriend should have been Elizabeth Taylor. Betty Lynn was attractively cute but not a classic beauty. For the record, I have no idea who the lady in the poster with the red skirt is since she was not in this movie. But her face has an uncanny resemblance to Miss Taylor.


Dependable and versatile actor, John Larch, is on hand as a prison inmate who sticks close to Gavin until the end, implausible as it is. In order to flush out both men hiding in the garage of Lynn’s father, Tully confesses his sin over a bull horn―in the formerly quiet neighborhood―and testifies to Gavin's innocence. Larch wants no part in any surrender and blasts through the garage door without opening it, hitting Tully in his escape. How anyone that near the garage―on that driveway of doom―could not hear the engine start and accelerate is beyond reasoning.