Making the Master of Suspense Proud in Nightfall


Nightfall, directed in 1956 by the estimable Jacques Tourneur from a Stirling Silliphant–sanitized David Goodis novel, and showing for a week in an impeccable print, is not only a nifty late noir but a model of economical filmmaking—well-sketched atmosphere, deft characterizations, and a 78-minute running time.

Set in a lost America of neon signage and out-of-town newsstands, Nightfall is a wrong man flick, released the same year as Hitchcock’s, that’s heavy on sudden danger and instant love. “You’re the most wanted man I know,” the young, sultry Anne Bancroft tells beleaguered hero Aldo Ray, an ordinary guy who’s under constant, mysterious surveillance and is also being tracked by a pair of implacable desperados (Brian Keith and Actors Studio grad Rudy Bond, especially funny as the more sociopathic of the two). The blocky, oddly diffident Ray is tougher than the usual hapless Goodis hero—just as Bancroft is nicer and more demure than the typical Goodis dame.

Occupying 48 hours, the action shifts from the bright lights of Hollywood Boulevard to the snowy wilds of Wyoming—a pristine landscape that serves to emphasize the hero’s innocence. The cocktail lounge pickup is adroitly staged, the action climax is expertly choreographed, and a fashion show set piece is worthy of the master. Aspiring filmmakers should take notes.