Nightfall (1957 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Ted Richmond
Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant
Based on Nightfall
1947 novel
by David Goodis
Starring Aldo Ray
Brian Keith
Anne Bancroft
Music by George Duning
Conducted by
Morris Stoloff
Cinematography Burnett Guffey, A.S.C.
Edited by William A. Lyon, A.C.E.
A Copa Production
Distributed by Columbia Pictures Corporation
Release date
  • January 23, 1957 (1957-01-23) (United States)
Running time
78 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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]


The film opens in Los Angeles with a shot of James Vanning (Aldo Ray) looking for a newspaper at a newsstand. He looks edgy, perhaps on the lookout for pursuers.

That evening he goes into a bar where he sits next to a young woman, Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft), who we later find out is a model. She asks him to borrow $5.00 to pay her bill, she having discovered she's left her house without any cash. He agrees and she in turn agrees to have dinner with him.

Leaving the restaurant with Marie, he is ambushed by John (Brian Keith) and Red (Rudy Bond) and taken to a nearby oil drilling rig where the two plan to beat the location of the money out of Vanning. Naturally, they don't believe him when he claims not to know where the money is. In searching his pockets, they discover the slip of paper on which Marie had written her address. Vanning, however, is able to fight his way free and escapes in their car, leaving the two briefly unconscious at the oil rig.

He returns to Marie's apartment—he'd remembered her address—where he angrily confronts her, believing she had been working with John and Red and had set him up. She convincingly denies knowing them and he then relates his story, explaining why John and Red have been after him. He tells her that he and his friend, Dr. Edward Gurston (Frank Albertson), had gone on a hunting and fishing trip in Wyoming. Sitting around their campfire one morning planning on returning to Chicago ahead of an expected snowstorm, they see a car careening off the road a short distance away. They hasten to the scene where they discover two men clambering out of their wrecked car and struggling up the hill back to the road. The two, John and Red, quickly pull a gun on them and force them back to their campsite where they plan to kill them and steal their car. John and Red are bank robbers, fleeing with $350,000 in loot, who don't plan on leaving any witnesses.

Red shoots and kills Dr. Gurston using Vanning's hunting rifle, and then he tried to kill Vanning using his .38 Automatic; but he missed and a piece of rock bounced off Vanning's skull which knocked him out cold. He awakens to discover the stolen money in a bag similar to the doctor's bag, which the robbers have taken by mistake. Vanning attempts to escape with it through the snow, leaving a very visible trail. John and Red soon return and follow Vanning's trail but leave off as Vanning has gotten to and entered a stream, and so Vanning appears to have gotten away. We last see him struggling toward a shed in an open field. Later, off camera, he apparently loses the bag in the predicted snowstorm, but escapes and continues to elude John and Red for the winter months until the Wyoming back country roads opens up again, wandering about the country and taking odd jobs to support himself. While on the run, he's become an artist and now supports himself through freelance work.

Ever since this incident, he's been suspected as the one who shot his friend in order to steal the still missing money. He claims, not entirely truthfully, that he doesn't know where the missing money is. Meanwhile and for a long time, an insurance investigator named Ben Fraser (James Gregory) has been following Vanning. Frazer also believes that Vanning knows where the money is, money which his company would very much like to recover.

Marie has fallen for Vanning and agrees to travel by bus with him to Wyoming, but first she has to fulfill her modelling obligation the next afternoon. She arranges to meet Vanning and to take the bus with him when she's finished. Earlier, John and Red had gone to Marie's apartment—they had her address written on the paper they had earlier taken from Vanning's pocket—and discovered Marie's book of modelling photos and the address of her modelling agency. They show up at her show and sit in a front row; she sees them and seems to know who they are maybe from Vanning's description but also from beholding their menacing, glowering visages. Soon after she notices John and Red, Vanning also appears. Marie runs to him, still clothed in a frock she's been modelling, and the two run off and jump in a cab to the bus station. Frazier had earlier also followed Vanning to the bus station when he bought his tickets and discovered Vanning was going, round trip, to Wyoming, so he too is on the bus.

At a rest stop on their journey, Frazer speaks to Vanning and tells him who he is and that he doesn't believe Vanning is the murderer or a thief. Thus, he and Vanning seemingly unite in their search for the missing money.

Somehow, John and Red have arrived at the shed in the snow ahead of the bus with Vanning and Marie and Frazer aboard. When the latter three arrive at the shed, they discover John and Red have found the money before them and get the drop on the late arrivals. Then, without having given us any real clue that they might not like one another or be at odds, John and Red threaten and pull guns on one another. Red shoots and apparently kills John, and in the brief confusion, Vanning manages to get John's rifle and shoot at the fleeing Red. It's now spring and the highway department has its heavy equipment out to finally clear the roads of winter's heavy snowfall. Red clambers into a very large snow-thrower parked near the shed, starts it up, and sets it in very slow forward motion, attempting to get away. Vanning climbs into the driver's cabin and fights with Red, eventually throwing him on the ground and, after punching him nearly unconscious, leaves him to be gobbled up by the churning blades of the snow-thrower. We only hear Red's anguished howls as the snow-thrower proceeds on its mechanical way.

We are left believing Fraser, the insurance investigator, will clear Vanning, who is now free to marry Marie.



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, who can't fully comprehend how he got into such a tight predicament where he's being pursued by both the law and two dangerous criminals. Burnett Guffey's brilliant composite photography adds chills to the already tense narrative. His exterior daytime shots of a wintry Wyoming landscape signify danger contrasted with the neon-lit dark city night streets that signify safety."[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]

Song "Nightfall"; lyrics Sam M. Lewis; music Peter DeRose and Charles Harold; sung by Al Hibbler

Turner Classic Movies showing[edit]

Turner Classic Movies presented Nightfall on September 17, 2015 in commemoration of Anne Bancroft's 84th birthday. Shown before Nightfall was 1957's The Girl in Black Stockings and, following Nightfall, viewers saw 1964's The Pumpkin Eater, 1966's 7 Women, 1975's The Prisoner of Second Avenue and 1984's Garbo Talks.

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.

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