Nightfall (1957 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byJacques Tourneur
Produced byTed Richmond
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Based onNightfall
1947 novel
by David Goodis
StarringAldo Ray
Brian Keith
Anne Bancroft
Music byGeorge Duning
Conducted by
Morris Stoloff
CinematographyBurnett Guffey, A.S.C.
Edited byWilliam A. Lyon, A.C.E.
A Copa Production
Distributed byColumbia Pictures Corporation
Release date
  • January 23, 1957 (1957-01-23) (United States)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States

Nightfall is an American film noir directed in 1957 by Jacques Tourneur and written by Stirling Silliphant. It features Aldo Ray, Brian Keith, and Anne Bancroft.

The low-budget film is remembered today for camera work by cinematographer Burnett Guffey. It uses flashbacks as a device to tell the story, which was based on a 1947 novel by David Goodis.[1]


On a Los Angeles sidewalk, Ben Fraser (James Gregory) asks James "Jim" Vanning (Aldo Ray) for a light, then after some idle chitchat, boards a bus. Jim goes into a bar. Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft), sitting beside him, asks to borrow $5 because she forgot or lost her wallet. He agrees and she accepts his dinner invitation.

The dinner conversation reveals that Marie is a model, Jim a commercial artist. They make a date for the next day. Leaving the restaurant, they are met by John (Brian Keith) and Red (Rudy Bond). Marie leaves. The two men drive Jim to a deserted spot. They do not believe him when he claims not to know where their $350,000 is. After knocking him out, they discover the slip of paper on which Marie had written her name, phone number and address.

An intermittent flashback ensues, alternating with action in the present. Jim and his close friend, Dr. Edward Gurston (Frank Albertson), are on a hunting trip in Wyoming when they see a car go off the road. They go to help. John and Red get out of their wrecked car. Gurston sets John's broken arm in a splint. Red then pulls out a gun on them. They are bank robbers. Red shoots Gurston in the back with a hunting rifle, and then he tries to kill Jim with a pistol to make it look like a murder–suicide. He misses; the bullet hits a rock, and a shard strikes Jim in the head, drawing blood, knocking him out and making him appear dead. He awakens to discover the thieves have taken Gerston's medical bag by mistake and left behind the similar looking bag containing the loot. When the killers return, Jim flees through the snow, shaking off his hunters by wading up a creek. However, when he comes upon a shack, he loses the bag somehow.

In the present, Jim manages to fight his way free and escape in their car. He goes to Marie's apartment and angrily confronts her, believing she set him up. She convinces him otherwise. When he realizes his pursuers must have the piece of paper with Marie's address, he warns her to go into hiding for her own safety. Jim spots John and Red driving up. He and Marie slip out and head to his place. Ben is secretly watching. Jim tells Marie he has been waiting for the roads to be cleared of snow so he can search for the money.

The next morning, he buys two bus tickets to Moose, Wyoming. Ben, tailing him, finds out where he is going. Marie agrees to go with him to Wyoming, but first she has to do some modelling at a fashion show that afternoon. Earlier, John found the name of her modelling agency at her apartment. She spots John and Red in the audience. When Jim shows up, she runs to warn him. He and Marie jump in a cab and drive to the bus station. Ben boards the bus too.

When they reach Moose, Ben tells Jim who he is: an insurance investigator. He does not believe Jim is a murderer or a thief. Ben found bullet casings at the campsite that match one at the robbery site. Jim, accompanied by Ben and Marie, retraces his steps. Near the shack, they spot fresh tracks. They head toward the shed, only to find that John and Red found the bag shortly before. John tells Red to tie the three up, as gunshots can be heard for miles. Red grudgingly complies with Marie and Ben, but intends to kill Jim. The two men point their guns at each other in a Mexican standoff. Red seems to back down, but when John's guard is down, he shoots John. Jim manages to get John's rifle. Red fires at him, but runs out of bullets. Then Red gets into a parked snowplow with rotating blades in front and steers it toward the shed and Marie and Ben. Jim goes after him and manages to steer the snowplow away. In the fighting, both men end up on the ground in front of the driverless vehicle. Jim gets clear, but Red is not so fortunate.



Critical response[edit]

Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and wrote, "Splendid adaptation by Stirling Silliphant of David Goodis's 1947 novel. Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past and I Walked with a Zombie) gets the most out of this minor film noir about a paranoid man haunted by his past".[2]

Critic Jay Seaver gave the film a mixed review, writing, "Nightfall isn't worried about purity of genre; it occasionally threatens to become an almost light-hearted caper movie.... The storytelling is more than a bit cumbersome. Stirling Silliphant's script starts shaky, with Vanning making annoyingly vague comments about not being able to remember the source of his woes, and Marie's appearance in the somewhat low-class bar where she meets him almost seems out of character by the end. The direction is similarly uneven; Jacques Tourneur has some impressive items on his résumé but also a fair amount of mediocrity, and this one's somewhere in between. He gets us into and out of flashbacks smoothly, and knows when to sit back and let the actors do their thing. If the end fizzles, it might be less Tourneur's fault and more the environment he was working in—the finale really calls for a bit of blood spatter, but you just didn't get that in 1957, so the tension that has been built nicely doesn't quite have the release one might like."[3]

Noir analysis[edit]

Film critic Alain Silver makes the case that even though the film's locations include bright snow-covered landscapes, the protagonist in the film is "typically noir." He writes, "Despite being made near the end of the cycle, the dilemma of Nightfall's protagonist is typically noir. Although he is a victim of several mischances, Vanning's paranoia compounds these problems significantly. Tourneur relegates those causal incidents to a flashback halfway through the film; but he does not allow them to be distorted by Vanning's point-of view. Rather, they reflect Vanning's struggle to comprehend how such violent but basically simple past occurrences have put him in such dangerous and complicated present predicament."[4]

Writer Spencer Selby called the film a "paranoid thriller which seems to be Tourneur's return to some of the territory he explored in Out of the Past."[5]

Song credits[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nightfall on IMDb .
  2. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, March 24, 2005. Last accessed: January 22, 2008.
  3. ^ Seaver, Jay. eFilmCritic, film review, August 24, 2005. Last accessed: January 23, 2008.
  4. ^ Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, film noir analysis by Alain Silver, page 206, 3rd edition, 1992. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  5. ^ Selby, Spencer. Dark City: The Film Noir, film listed as film noir #280 on page 166, 1984. Jefferson, N.C. & London: McFarland Publishing. ISBN 0-89950-103-6.

External links[edit]