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Debate and confusion will always exist about when film noir starts and finishes, or if it should only appertain to one country. Importantly it will always be in the eye of the beholder, more so since many of the film makers back in the day didn't know they were making films that would soon become a film making style phenomenon.
On the Night of the Fire (AKA: The Fugitive) has everything a film noir lover could want. Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and adapted from F.L. Green's novel of the same name, film stars Ralph Richardson, Diana Wynyard, Romney Brent, Mary Clare and Henry Oscar. Plot has Richardson as Will Kobling, a Tyneside barber in the North East of England, who after spying an open window at the local mill, lets temptation get the better of him and climbs in to steal the money that will hopefully end his family's financial woes. On such impulsive decisions does life alter...
From the off the pic is exuding a period of working class Britain from days of yore! It's all brickwork and cobbled streets, of musky docks, gin houses, beat street coppers and sweat stained barber shops where graft and honest toil is the order of the day. Magnificently hovering over proceedings is a swirling score by Miklós Rózsa (Double Indemnity/Criss Cross) and Germanic cinematography by Günther Krampf (Pandora's Box/The Ghoul), with these in full effect and director Hurst firmly dealing in a mood of pessimism, this really becomes a picture not complying with any sort of code ethics.
The characterisations are superbly dubious, story is awash with folk who are quick to turn on a sixpence to meet their ends. There's hysterical alcoholics, shifty loners, a business man who is not beyond expecting sexual favours to pay off a debt. Added into the pot is murder, blackmail and the corruption of someone we could quite easily sympathise with, all this and the fire that smoothers the town in smog, water and floating burnt cinders. The backdrop is set in noirish stone, Richardson is superb, and then the devilish hand of noir fate steps in to not cheat lovers of the film making medium.
A bit stagy at times and the likes of Mary Clare are too hysterical with their acting - where the director should have reined it in - but small complaints for anyone interested in British Proto-Noir before it even had a name. 8/10
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