Tourneur Classic Movies

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Two Jacques Tourneur movies came out in 1957, both superb, which is remarkable because he’d had quite an up-and-down career, mostly.

NIGHTFALL, from a David Goodis novel, has some classic noir illogicality, adding to its waking nightmare feel. It also has one of the genuinely sweet heroes, played by raspy-voiced tough guy Aldo Ray — Anne Bancroft also plays a nice person, and the tension between their sweet characters and their respective edges (Ray carries an inherent roughness, Bancroft a brittle and bitter flavour) is magnificent.

Fiona suggested that the above ironic foreshadowing would make a nice tie-in with the snowy footprints (with its case full of money, blackly comic psycho duo, and snowy scenery, the film seems an influence on FARGO) and hence with the earthier prints in Tourneur’s other triumph of ’57.

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Unfortunately, the footprints only register in motion — Tourneur’s camera tracks alongside the invisible demon as it advances implacably, leaving smouldering holes in the forest loam, but said holes are too indistinct to get a good image of. I settle for this ~

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I’m tempted to make a fan edit of NIGHT OF THE DEMON with the big demon removed, but of course I have no specific instructions from the director about how to do this. Tourneur said that the black panther that attacks Dana Andrews should have been edited down to flashes — in the finished film, you can clearly see the thing is a product of taxidermy rather than diabolism — and the demon likewise. Effecting such changes would wreak havoc on Muir Matheson’s scarifying score, and would amount to a fair bit of work which I’m not technically qualified to do. But it could be GREAT —

At present, Andrews’ skeptical scientist is a slightly annoying clod, which is often the case with skeptics in films of fantasy (in THEM!, the use of an irritating skeptic was a cunning choice to deliberately make the audience WANT to see this pompous ass proved wrong). This would be less true if it weren’t for the demon showing up, larger than life and grinning like a muppet, in the opening sequence — we know Andrews is wrong from the start. We NEED a little doubt to make the story play properly. The fact that in spite of the producer’s ham-fisted interference, the film is a classic, is testimony to the skills of Tourneur and his team.

When I spoke to star Peggy Cummins last week, she said “It’s an absolute icon, isn’t it? In England and America. I don’t know how it’s regarded in your country, Scotland…” I assured her that it was a Halloween favourite. Seek it out this season!

I’ve been making a video essay about Tourneur. More on this soon.

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12 Responses to “Tourneur Classic Movies”

  1. Warren Sonbert was particularly taken with the opening of Nightfall. It goes on for some time without dialogue and is totally wrapped up in POV shots that set the scene in casually tense way.

    Looking forward to your Tourneur video essay.

    Re. Night of the Demon, have you ever met Ken Adam? it was his first production design credit.

  2. We’ve seen a Ken Adam live Q&a and asked a question, but couldn’t say we’d “met” him, really. He was delightful, though.

    The Nightfall theme song is pretty bad — sung by one Al Hibbler. I liked him better when he was dictator of Germany. No, wait, wrong guy. Similar name.

    Visually, it’s great, with Aldo Ray startled when the city lights up and he feels exposed.

  3. Ugh. I wish you hadn’t pointed out the theme song in NIGHTFALL–the last time I saw the film some jerkball laughed out loud during it.

    I also wish the demon wasn’t seen in NIGHT OF, and I agree the film still great. Tourneur is rather famous for passively accepting scripts and only then looking to “find” something in him, so naturally their effectiveness swings with his connection to the material. And he had an affinity for the supernatural. Of course, the alcoholism didn’t help. I dearly love Tourneur, and eagerly look forward to your essay.

  4. *…find something in THEM*

  5. As a monster, the demon, though maybe a little goofy, is rather splendid. He just shouldn’t be there. Not that I’m asking for a revised version to replace the original — the film released in 1957 (in two edits, UK and US) is the only authentic one. But a revision would make a lovely bonus and allow the story to play as Charles Bennett and Tourneur intended it.

  6. I’d love a bonus edit of Night of the Demon (get Walter Murch to repeat his Touch of Evil re-edit role). While he’s at it, have him lop off that useless Invasion of the Body
    Snatchers coda so it ends with the Kevin McCarthy freakout ending as nature intended.

  7. Charles W. Callahan Says:

    I loved Rudy Bond in Nightfall. Was this his biggest part after
    A Street Car Named Desire and On The Waterfront? I remember he a bit part in The Godarher. The camera glides by him at the table in the meeting with Brando, Conte and all the other “Godfathers”.

  8. William Wyler used to do his own re-edit of The Letter by switching off the TV just before it ended. Touching to think he apparently never missed an airing.

    Bond and Brian Keith are great together. Their banter during the long-take showdown — priceless! Keith obviously greatly enjoys his costar.

  9. I no longer remember which is the UK version and which the US, but I do remember that I liked the NIGHT cut better than the CURSE cut. Alas, I no longer remember what the differences were either.

    NIGHTFALL seems to provide some genetic material to FARGO as well.

  10. NIGHT is the UK one, and it’s a bit longer I think. For once, both titles seem equally apt, but NIGHT is a little more subtle.

  11. Skywatcher Says:

    Bit late to comment, perhaps, but some years back I met the elderly Hal Chester at a movie convention. He so upset the hotel staff that they nearly threw him out onto the street, but the people running the convention managed to smooth things out. I remember asking him about the Demon puppet, and he said that he had spent a great deal of time and effort to find someone who could actually make it work on screen. Having spent that much dosh on getting the effect, it was damn well going to appear on screen for long enough for the audience to appreciate it!

  12. Spoken like a true producer!

    Well, the interference Tourneur faced on this movie pales to that he dealt with at AIP, but then NOTD is a greater movie so it hurts more.

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