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. 

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