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 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.
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May 5, 2016 at 10:59 AM