Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall signals the coming end of the classic noir cycle, followed only by Murder By Contract and Touch of Evil in 1958, and Odds Against Tomorrow in 1959.
Despite Tourneur’s directorial elan, excellent noir photography from Burnett Guffey, and a script based on a David Goodis novel, the movie clearly attests to the decline of the film noir cycle. The story of the innocent man entrapped by fate and on the run from both the cops and hoods has been played out many times before, and Tourneur does not manage to invest the scenario with any real tension. Even at 78 minutes the screenplay takes too long to reach its rather pat resolution.
Aldo Ray and Ann Bancroft in the leads are well cast, and the development of their relationship from a pick-up at a bar in LA and its flowering in the snow-drifts of Wyoming, is handled with economy and flair. The dialog is intelligent and the inter-play between two mis-matched hoods and their prey is strikingly good. The violence whether threatened or real is particularly noir. The two merciless hoods threaten to snap the legs of the protagonist on the boom of an oil rig, and the pitiless gunning down of a victim is still shocking to a jaded noir sensibility. But a climactic fight in the snow against an out-of-control snow plough is bereft of any true suspense, and even the final gruesome aftermath lacks real impact.