Friday, 18 September 2015

NIGHTFALL












d. Jacques Tourneur (1957)

'That's your whole trouble, you know that? The top of your head never closed up when you were a kid. Neither did your mouth.'

Film Noir often hinges on coincidence or, perhaps more in keeping with the idiom, dumb luck. Nightfall contains a plot that is so convoluted it can scarcely be believed - but it works, it just works, and it makes for the most under-rated film I know.

I'm not going to summarise the story, other than to say it comes from the typewriter of arch pulp writer David Goodis and involves $350,000 of stolen money, a murder, two ruthless villains, a beautiful girl and an innocent man trying to clear his name, played by that most believable of fall guys, Aldo Ray*. Most of the action plays out in Wyoming, a stunning looking state of deep snow, tall mountains and great swathes of beautiful wilderness. It's not quite breathless, but it is relentless, a film of great verve and energy and momentum that is greatly aided by superb performances from just about everyone in the cast.   

I'm pretty sure that the Coen brothers watched this film before they wrote Fargo. It's by no means a rip off, but there are too many recurring elements for it to be a coincidence: a man running across a snow covered field; money buried, waiting for a thaw; a double act of killers who hate and mistrust each other, one voluble, almost reasonable, the other a psychopath; bloody death by machinery (a snow plough here, not a wood chipper). It's not a problem, it's just interesting. The Coen's clearly know their stuff, or, at least, they did: they've ploughed a very arid furrow indeed since The Big Lebowski.  

* Aldo Ray is great. Tall, heavy set, tough, but with a broken, raspy voice and blue eyes that seem permanently on the verge of tears. When he smiles, he looks about six years old. 

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