You can practically hear auteurists beating their rusty sabers for Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 man-on-the-run thriller, the kind of pedigreed pulp that gets left off greatest-genre-hits lists yet still inspires motormouthed overpraising from directorial enthusiasts. (Call it Tourneur-ette’s syndrome.) Granted, the French migr was a studio-system artiste: his contributions to the Val Lewton horror canon—I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, Cat People—and his work on the greatest noir of them all, 1947’s Out of the Past, confirm the filmmaker’s superior command of shadowy mood. But rediscovery doesn’t equal reclamation, and if anything, this decent adaptation of David Goodis’s story about a framed everyday joe (Ray) on the lam just makes Tourneur’s real gems shine brighter by comparison.
Forget that this paranoid potboiler is essentially a runt twin to Past (down to the borrowing of its flashback-labyrinth structure) rather than a lost classic. Focus, instead, on the perks that Nightfall does offer: You still get the criminally underrated Aldo Ray trading hardboiled barbs with Anne Bancroft (“I’m a painter.” “Soup cans or sunsets?”); Brian Keith and Rudy Bond’s giggly good-thug-bad-thug double act; and the joy of watching beefy guys in boxy suits dangle cigarettes off sweaty lips and talk tough. We’ll take those modest B-movie pleasures over a sock in the mug any day of the week.—David Fear