Rayburn is a big bear type of friendly Chicago bachelor, commercial artist, and former Navy wartime veteran who is on a hunting trip in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with older best friend Dr. Edward Gurston, who married Jim’s friend—a woman twenty years his junior. Their camping trip is interrupted by a speeding car going off an embankment and Doc patching up the fractured arm of one of the rescued men. The psychopathic Red and the more puzzling contemplative John (Brian Keith) just robbed a bank in Seattle of $350,000, and decide to steal the camper’s car and kill them because they’re potential eyewitnesses to their perfect robbery. Trigger-happy Red kills Doc, but after making it look like a suicide leaves Rayburn unconscious and seemingly dead. The camper recovers when the thugs are gone and finds they mistakenly took Doc’s medical bag instead of the one with the dough. While fleeing on foot through a snowstorm, the camper buries the money in a snowbank near a shack and instead of reporting it to the police, he goes on the lam changing his name to Jim Vanning. He does it because his fingerprints are on the rifle that killed Doc, and that would make him a likely murder suspect. Also, his motive might be the suspicious relationship he had with Doc’s wife, who wrote him love letters and made sexual advances at the innocent man.
On the run all winter, Vanning lands in Los Angeles after being tailed for several months by insurance investigator Ben Fraser, who is accompanied by his wife Laura. The investigator is waiting for Vanning to lead him to the heist money, even though he knows that he’s also wanted in Chicago for murder. Ben tells his wife “He grows on you; it’s almost like he needs protection.”
In a Hollywood bar, Marie Gardner, a high-class fashion model, picks up Vanning claiming she has no money to pay for her drinks after her girl friend failed to show up for a dinner date. Outside the bar, Red and John accost him and roughly dismiss Marie, saying she did a good job relaxing him. She mistakenly helped them thinking they were police after a wanted man. The thugs take Vanning to a deserted oil derrick and are set to torture him for info on the money, but Vanning manages to escape and flees to Marie’s place where he explains everything. They spend the night innocently together and plan to go to Wyoming to find the money and return it to the police. —Ozu’s World of Movie Reviews
The first director Val Lewton hired for his RKO unit was Jacques Tourneur, and the first picture made by that unit was Cat People, an original screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen.
When Tourneur’s father, Maurice, returned to Paris after a number of years in America, Jacques had gone with him, working as assistant director and editor for his father. In 1933, he made a few directorial solos in the French language and then returned to Hollywood, where he became an assistant director at MGM. It was at this time that he first met Val Lewton, and the two young men worked as special unit directors for Jack Conway on A Tale of Two Cities ; it was Lewton and Tourneur who staged the storming of the Bastille sequence for that film.
Tourneur remained at MGM, directing over 20 short subjects, and Lewton eventually went on to become David O. Selznick’s story editor. When Lewton left Selznick to head his own production unit at RKO, he had already made up his mind that Tourneur would direct his… read more
Pretty good noir gem. Jacques Tourneur's direction is great without being pushy & Anne Bancroft is nothing short of mesmerizing in this. The flashbacks are very well done as is any scene involving snow. I really feel Nightfall could've benefited from a different lead as Aldo Ray was schlubbish, dopey & I didn't really care about him. The rest of the cast was just okay & the ending was too convenient & abrupt to me.
"The idea was to record and respond to the political and culture climate as instantaneously as possible — and, one assumes, intervene
Above: L.A. noir—Rudy Bond, a .45, Aldo Ray, and an oil derrick. Jacques Tourneur, one of old Hollywood's last poets, seems forever