Night and the City and Me

I am on a bit of a Richard Widmark film noir kick. “Night and the City (1950)” is a great film noir and really is the quintessential Widmark antihero performance.  Filmed in post WWII London, it tells the seedy story of Harry Fabian (Widmark), a hustler, who works as a night club tout for the “private club” Silver Fox. The club is owned by Helen (Googie Withers) and Phil (Francis L. Sullivan) Nosseross.  He is basically a grifter who lures suckers patrons in. The cast is rounded out by Gene Tierney (another favorite of mine), as Mary, Harry’s long suffering girlfriend and Hugh Marlowe plays her sympathetic neighbour Adam.  The city of London at night is also a strong supporting character that establishes the film’s tone right away.

Harry is an artist without an art, to quote the character played by Hugh Marlowe.  Harry’s knack is to bounce from one get-rich-quick scheme to another.  During this process, he has exhausted the patience but not the humour of everyone for miles around.  His latest scheme is to promote “real” Greco-Roman Wrestling for profit in London.  He underestimates the obstacles in his way, especially Mr. Kristo who controls the Wrestling Entertainment industry in London.  Harry is a slick con man who can fool the naive marks but he can’t play a player.  Unfortunately, his final mark is Gregorious a retired professional wrestler and his protege.  This is unfortunate because Gregorious is Kristo’s father and Kristo is a savy player.  In fact almost everyone is more savy than Harry.  He seems to suffer delusions of grandeur.  But even Harry’s associates on the fringes of society, Figler (King of the Beggars) and Googin (the Forger) know better than to get mixed up in Harry’s cockamamie schemes.  Needless to say, Harry can’t quite pull this one off and the consequences are dire, not only for him but others caught in his wake.

Richard Widmark plays Harry so well, he manages to evoke our sympathy, despite Harry’s arrested development.  Harry is self absorbed, with a huge sense of entitlement and a callous disregard for others.  But there is a perverse joy in watching Harry pull a con game, out of the blue, or as part of his job as club tout.  Widmark’s perfomance as Harry takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotional highs to the depths of frustration with the exhiliration.  One can’t help but hope that everything will turn out for Harry in the end.  In fact, all the acting is very impressive and stands the test of time, especially Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan.  They all have their turn at scene stealing.  Gene Tierney is good as Mary, but the part, as written, underutilizes her talents.  Dassin deserves high praise for directing such a wonderful ensemble and constructing such a stark depiction of the dark side of London.  The dialogue is sharp, each character has his/her own voice.  And there are many memorable quotes.

Googin the Forger: If you ain’t got socks you can’t pull ’em up, can you?

I should take this opportunity to mention that I watched this movie with little understanding of the appeal that wrestling (be it greco-roman vs WWE) has and this did not detract from the film.  In fact the film helps illustrate the “evolution” of wrestling from a sport to an entertainment spectacle.  The fight scene involving the Strangler and Gregorius is a sight to behold.  It ranks as one of the top movie fights of all time.

I watched this movie on the Criterion Collection’s excellent disc that is chock full of extras, including commentary tracks and a discussion of the 2 different versions (US and UK) as well as a fine interview with director Jules Dassin.  This was his last Hollywood Studio film before he was black listed. He continued his prolific career in Europe. The DVD was a pricey blind buy but worth it.

“Night and the City” is a classic film noir and one of Widmark’s most memorable movies. As a curiosity, this film was remade with the same title in 1992 starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 8teen39
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 09:35:47

    I could never make it through this fim. I tried twice and I love noir. I guess I’m just not a Widmark fan. But maybe I’ll give it another try. Your writing is pretty persuasive!


    • annhall
      Apr 28, 2012 @ 10:19:46

      Thanks for your kind words. I know some RW fans don’t like this film. So don’t be too hard on yourself. I will confess that the climax of the movie pushes him into over the top territory. I may be pulling a fan’s prerogative and turning a blind eye at that point. I am curious to know at which point you decide to call it quits.


      • 8teen39
        Apr 28, 2012 @ 12:49:17

        To tell you the truth I don’t really remember. The first time maybe only about 20 minutes in. The second time I must have fallen asleep (and don’t let that be a critique of the film itself). I remember isolated scenes but nothing concrete. I just went onto netflix to refresh my memory but it’s not on streaming anymore.

  2. kmnnz
    Aug 26, 2012 @ 02:18:38

    Such of a good movie. Really found myself caught up in it the last time I watched it. You are so right about the sympathy he invokes from the viewer. Harry was so shady, but I found myself feeling so sorry for him.

    Terrific review!


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