Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Will we ever tire of noir? Unlikely—it’s their time-and-place particularity, rising like mushrooms from the decaying roots of postwar culture, that makes them sing even today. Though you’d think by now that has-been is definitely the new never-was, the noirs live on in iconic resonance, because, ironically, they’re a nostalgist’s hot-coffee-in-the-face reality check, reminding us in no uncertain terms that the past we often idealize and dismiss was just as beset by misery and ruin as today. Maybe more so. Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall is a near-forgotten, fast-cheap-&-out-of-control sweat session, in which the hulking yet quivering Aldo Ray hits the Big City on the run from something very very bad, and crosses paths in a bar with Anne Bancroft, a used-abused waif with the defensive posture of squirrel among dogs. Soon enough Brian Keith, as a bloodspilling bank robbing anti-Aldo (they were both thick-necked Pacific-theater vets and look it), emerges and pushes the action back to the great wide open of Wyoming, where an oil rig becomes an impromptu torture appliance. Little of the David Goodis-based film is actually very dark; it’s the lawless, wintery mountain wilderness that generates more anxiety, and the forecast the film delivers of the Coen bros’ Fargo has been duly noted. Sans the Orphic torque of Tourneur’s Out of the Past, the movie still radiates a fight-or-flight inquietude that itself could serve as a mid-century axiom, a kind of feel-bad story America couldn’t stop telling itself.
June 11-17 at Film Forum