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. Written by
Alan Katz <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In one of Harry's trips the London at night, a theatre advertises the play, 'The Third Visitor'. This play would be made into a film in 1951. See more »
As Harry is being chased through the streets of London at night, he runs down a set of stairs, then turns and runs down a lit street. In the foreground the cameraman and director's shadows are clearly outlined against the street. See more »
The more films I see by Jules Dassin, the more I wonder why he isn't better known or regarded as a director. It's been 56 years since he was blacklisted by the McCarthy-ites, but his reputation never seems to have recovered, at least not in the United States. Hopefully, more DVD releases like the Criterion version of Night and the City will bring deserved attention to his excellent body of work.
I want to call Night and the City a classic film noir, which it is, but that seems too limiting. It might be better to say that Dassin uses film noir to dig a little deeper into our human strivings and sufferings. There's a lot of sweat and desperation in the midst of this entertaining and well-paced film, and not just on the part of Harry Fabian, the small-time hustler who dreams of being great. We encounter a typically smooth and dangerous mobster who also happens to have a difficult relationship with his disappointed father. A wealthy but thugish club owner, who might be a caricature in another film noir, can't seem to express his powerful and animalistic feelings for his beautiful wife. She seems like a scheming femme fatale but turns out to have an almost quaint dream of her own. In the end, we're in the muck and mire of human foibles, a kind of low-level Shakespearean tragedy that we all live out to one degree or another. This story just happens to take place in the shadowy underworld of 1950 London.
There's a poignancy to this film that separates it from others in the noir genre. Part of this lies in the strong writing, part in the excellent acting ensemble. This is one of those rare and remarkable films where the secondary and minor actors seem like they were all giving the performance of their career. Richard Widmark probably could have done with a bit more subtlety as Harry Fabian; he feels a bit histrionic at times, but his manic energy is important to the pace of the film and the feeling of increasing desperation. Gene Tierney and Hugh Marlowe don't get to do much and seem a bit lost among all the other great roles. In an interview with Dassin included with the DVD, the director says he put Tierney in the film as a favor to producer Daryl Zanuck, adding her role at the last minute, and it feels like that at times. But, hey, it's Gene Tierney.
Herbert Lom delivers a chilling performance as Kristo the mobster, and Stanislaus Zbyszko is a miracle as his father, the once-famous wrestler Gregorious who can't stand that his son has helped kill the great tradition of Greco-Roman wrestling with his shoddy wrestling matches. The great Mike Mazurki does well as The Strangler, and the wrestling match he gets into with Gregorious may be the highlight of the film. Zbyszko and Mazurki were both former wrestlers, and the realism of their fight heightens the emotional intensity of the scene. It's the brutal scruff and claw of existence brought to life on screen for a few powerful moments.
I had never seen Francis Sullivan before, so I was pleasantly surprised by his masterful work as the club owner Nosseross. Googie Withers also does a great job as his wife Helen, managing to bring some good shading to an underwritten role. And some of the best moments of the film are delivered by minor characters such as Anna, the woman who works down on the docks; Figler, the "King of the Beggars;" and Googin the forger.
After a brief voice-over intro, Dassin starts the action with a bang, as one man chases another through the darkness of late-night London, across what looks like the plaza in front of the British Museum (???). The camera angle on this opening is fantastic, the kind of shot you want to turn into a poster and hang on your wall. And the camera work remains excellent throughout the film. The final long sequence of Harry running all over London in the foggy darkness, with the whole world seemingly after him, is an exciting and powerful climax. Quite a memorable ending to this excellent film.
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