Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a London hustler with ambitious plans that never work out. One day, when he encounters the most famous Greco-Roman wrestler in the world, Gregorius, at a London wrestling arena run by his son Kristo, he dreams up a scheme that he thinks will finally be his ticket to financial independence. As Fabian attempts to con everyone around him to get his scheme to work, he of course only ends up conning himself. This is an interesting tale of blind ambition, self-deception, broken dreams, and how a man who always thinks he's ahead of the game ends up tripping himself very badly.
Richard Widmark ... Harry Fabian
Gene Tierney ... Mary Bristol
Googie Withers ... Helen Nosseross
Hugh Marlowe ... Adam Dunn
Francis L. Sullivan ... Philip Nosseross
Herbert Lom ... Kristo
Stanislaus Zbyszko ... Gregorius
Mike Mazurki ... The Strangler
Charles Farrell ... Mickey Beer
Ada Reeve ... Molly the Flower Lady
Ken Richmond ... Nikolas (as Ken. Richmond)
Bizarre, madding film noir; a fascinating marriage of style and substance. It's Fellininesque, with Jules Dassin taking the viewer to a strange world that exits underneath the facade of the ordinary. With its nihilistic view of life on Earth, the film anticipates films like "Touch of Evil" and "Blue Velvet." The London setting is an important character, presented in an almost surreal manner. The acting in the film is brilliant. Richard Widmark's frenetic, sweaty, over the top performance adds the right touch of madness that the movie seems to call for; this is perhaps Widmark's best work ever. Francis L. Sullivan is also memorable as Phil Nosseross, and Googie Withers steals a lot of scenes as Sullivan's bitter wife. Herbert Lom beautifully underplays his Mafioso, and Stanislaus Zbyszko is unforgettable as Lom's father. Dassin is not interested in holding back, and his hackish style seems to be a sign of the director's state of mind at the time he was making the film (Dassin was facing the possibility of being blacklisted). Anyhow, this is a compelling movie, highly recommended to fans of classic cinema.
The rise and fall of small-time hustler Harry Fabain is chronicled in this noir thriller by Director Jules Dassin.
This was Dassin's American swansong, completed just before being named by fellow director Ed Dmytryk before HUAK as a "communist," thus ending Dassin's American career.
He brought to "Night and the City" all the technique he acquired over years of quality movie making. Although born in Connecticut and raised and trained in the US, Dassin's work always had the look and feel of his European counterpart, Carol Reed.
The script here is a decent one with surprise turns, avoiding predictability. Franz Waxman's high pitched score adds excitement to the proceedings and Gene Tierney is a creditable second lead.
Yet it's Richard Widmark on whose shoulders the success of this film ultimately rests. It's not an easy role, as Fabian's character runs the gamut of emotional range as he struggles to wheel and deal his petty schemes amongst assorted lowlife types.
Widmark proves he's well up to the challenge, creating a strong portrait of a small time hood striving for positive payoffs through his callous cleverness.
It's a reminder of how talented and resourceful this actor is, and how he and Dassin meshed to create a film of impact.
Dassin, of course, went on to France after this to engage in a fabulous European period, while Widmark struggled to find scripts worthy of his formidable talents, which turned out to be few and far between.
For some reason Night and the City doesn't seem to the credit it deserves; possibly because it was director Jules Dassin's last American film before being blacklisted as a Communist. I wasn't born until the Cold War was winding down, but it seems that with movies like Night and the City to his credit, we could have turned a blind eye even if he really was a Commie.
Honestly this film deserves to rank up there with the likes of The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, or Out of the Past. The scenes of our "hero" Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark, at his best) being chased through London's East End are as starkly beautiful as anything you'll ever see on film. For several minutes there isn't a single shade of gray, everything is literally black or white and the camera itself seems to have joined in hunting Harry. Then there's the long, semi-grotesque wrestling scene that took me totally by surprise, it's like something out of Fellini.
Widmark is utterly believable as Fabian, a charming two-bit grifter who works as a "club tout" but hatches one ill-fated get-rich-quick scheme after another. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, there isn't a cardboard character in the bunch, except maybe Harry's girl Marry (Gene Tierney) though its really more a flaw in the character than the actress. Mary's saintliness may be the writers' only slip-up though, every other character has the sort of depth that makes the film a joy to watch. They inexorably follow their own motivations, which, of course, rely on those of someone else, who inevitably has a goal of his or her own, which will eventually derail the plan of someone whom someone else is counting on (actually, the film is a little less twisted than this review ;-) Criterion has just (2/05) recently released Night and the City and never has the phrase "filmed in glorious black and white" been more appropriate. Before this film seemed to lurk in the shadows of AMC or TCM, only occasionally showing its face, as if it were one of the genre's minor works. Now, if you haven't seen it you have no excuse, and you're only hurting yourself.
Harry Fabian begins and ends 'Night and the City' running from somebody in a nightmare nocturnal London, literally ducking and diving, lurching into abandoned warehouses and slums, crouching in doorways, scrabbling up alleys: a hounded man with a desperate febrile face. If the traditional Western is about escape from a fixed identity, than Fabian's quest is, as is appropriate to such an interior, urban genre as the crime film, its opposite - he wants to stop running, to earn a fixed place, a recognisable identity, to be treated with respect, to be somebody.
But in the first ten minutes he is a divided man. Scrounging cash from his unbelievably tolerant girlfriend, Mary (oh yes) she shows him a photo of their past, an idyllic picture of harmony on a rowing boat, presumably on some pleasant English river. Harry has fallen from this pastoral paradise, he has moved from this fixed, frozen image to a lift of constant movement, where to stop is to die, assuming and casting off identities as he goes. The film's negative drive is very similar to Godard's 'A Bout De Souffle', and like Michel Poiccard, Harry is a dead man, A Maxwell's Demon of energy and information overloading, hurtling into inertia.
Although the film comes within the description of film noir, it's rise and fall narrative more properly belongs to the 30s gangster genre, and Harry is like a man out of time. His bluster, quick-thinking energy, and absurd sense of style (he stops n the middle of life-threatening flight to pick up his fallen buttonhole) would be thoroughly appropriate in the worlds of 'Scarface' or 'The Public Enemy'. But film noir in an interior, subjective genre, the laws are less easily manipulable, everyone's looking out for himself. Harry doesn't even rise very high - although he almost convinces you that he does - he gets as far as the rehearsal stage for the big drama that will be his success.
The figures of drama seep through the film, from Mary's singing to an audience, to the extraordinary wrestling rite that sparks off the action climax. This fight is extraordinary, as the film changes registers, changes from one plot to another, with Harry marginalised in his own drama, moved from playwright and actor to impotent observer. Because throughout Harry is the former, willing events, dreams, even people into existence, performing a constant series of roles, adapting for the different audiences; even playacting a crucial narrative plot point (getting Gregorius to fight the Strangler). This further splits the already divided Harry - the man of public performance(s) has nothing left for himself - he is indeed a dead man.
'Night' is about 3/4 a masterpiece. Unusually for a noir, which often forsook coherent narrative for 'meaningful' spectacle, it is an exciting action film, full of unbearable suspense and good chases. The filming of London, after the initial jolt of a spiv hero with an American accent, is unparalelled, its seedy underworld given a gothic-Dickenisan intensity, all shadows, Chinese-box-like interiors and grotesques - Francis L. Sullivan as Phil Nosseross, half Satan, half sympathetic cuckold, is outstanding. The mechanics of underworld commerce (club touting, hostesses etc.), is brilliantly done (and more economically than 'Casino'), as well as sociologically important; showing that the film is about much more than a man's downfall.
Anyone who knows Jules Dassin from his interminable Melina Mercouri films may be surprised by the level of invention here - the bursting, lurching mise-en-scene, threatening to explode at any moment, full of overspilling wide angles, masses of intrusive decor, brilliant composition in which mise en scene ironically frames and imprisons characters who think they've all the freedom, or the placing of characters in space to reveal their true power. Franz Waxman's score is a neurotic marvel, full of sudden shards of lightening. Best of all is Widmark's astounding performance, a seedy Jerry Maguire, full of talk and promises hiding inner terror and emptiness, charming and cocky at the right times, shockingly, paralysingly brutal when he needs to be.
The last quarter is a little disappointing, with its cod-psychological 'explanations' of the end, diluting the hero's potency, (although the 'revelation' of past here mirrors the photo at the beginning), and the Willy Loman/'Angels with Dirty Faces' stretch for redemption is a bit much. But the ending is bravely downbeat - this is a rare Hays Code era film that allows the villain go unpunished.