Sunday, August 8, 2010

Movies: Nightfall

I saw this movie two months ago at Film Forum. It wasn't so challenging that it's taken me two months to digest it, nor was it so tedious that it's taken me two months to rally my sense of responsibility to write. I've just had a busy two months.

Sitting down to write today, I had, I admit, forgotten the title, and, in fact, most of the plot. The only thing I remembered vividly was the action-packed climax: a fist-fight that tumbles out of the driver's seat of a snowplow—the snowplow still proceeding voraciously toward a lonely lean-to, in which the heroine and another character are bound at wrist and ankle. The shot that sticks is the dead-on, full-screen, look into the maw of the plow, which fills the contemporary audience with drunken giggles, though I imagine the 1957 audience sat on the edges of their seats with their eyes wide open, or else closed them, shrinking away in terror.

But how did we get here? The lurchingly sweet Aldo Ray (I always think he would make a good Frankenstein's monster; his body is too big for his personality) has suited up the innocent Anne Bancroft in winter hiking gear, traipsing into the snowy wilderness of Wyoming in search of a doctor's bag stuffed with cash. The money isn't his, but accidentally fell into his hands the winter before, when he was camping with his friend (incidentally, a doctor). When the two of them stopped to look into a roadside accident, they unwittingly found themselves fraternizing with a couple of criminals—bank robbers on the lam, whose bag full of cash happens to look just like the doctor's bag. Not only do the robbers take the campers' car, but they shoot the doc dead with his rifle, and try to kill Aldo Ray, too. He escapes, taking what he thinks is the doctor's bag, but what is actually the bag of money. Somewhere along the way, he stops to sleep in a lean-to, and forgets the bag out in the snow, never realizing its contents.

Months later, Ray is a hunted man. The bank robbers think he has their money, and the bank's insurance investigator thinks so too, though he has a hunch that Ray is innocent. Bancroft unwittingly steps into the middle of this web when she lets Ray pay for her martini and subsequent dinner at a lonely restaurant in the middle of the night—the same night the robbers find him and drive him out to the waterfront to deliver an information-seeking beating. He escapes, but knows that the only way out of this mess is to find the money himself, which is how he finds himself rolling around in the snow, wrestling in front of an unmanned moving snowplow. The bank robber, I'm afraid to say, becomes food for the beast.

Ultimately, the film is basically as generic a noir as its title implies (I at last remembered the title, but had doubts that it was right, it being so generic). For those with a particular interest in really bad bad guys, bank robber number two is a little gone in the head, with a penchant for torture. For those with an interest in 1950s haute couture, Bancroft plays a model, and one of the better chase scenes involves the robbers crashing her rendezvous with Ray at a classy department store's garden fashion show. And of course, for those with an interest in snowplows, it is a must-see.

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