Well here’s a classic film noir of slightly confusing origins. Before we get to the “is it any good?” narrative, we’ll just say that Night and the City (1950) is usually referred to as a “British film noir” (because, yes, we did make them and we were rather good at it). However, that’s slightly misleading as director Jules Dassin was an American and he made it over here because he’d just been put on the Hollywood blacklist for suspected un-American activities. It also stars Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney so, in a sense, it’s very much American noir. But not only is the titular city bombed-out London, you also get Googie Withers in a lead role and nobody is more British than Googie Withers. She practically won the war single-handedly (but with a bit of help from Vera Lynn).
All of this is rather fortuitous as Gerald Kersh’s novel that inspired the movie was actually set in London. Harry Fabian (Widmark) is a spiv, a con-man and a loser, always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme. Curiously, his nationality is never referred to in the film (although he does allude to being an American when conning some transatlantic tourists) but the character in the book was a Londoner who tried to perfect an American accent so quite what Widmark is playing is open to conjecture. But the scheme he’s about to embark on is going into the ruthless business of wrestling promotions up against the suitably uncompromising Kristo (a young Herbert Lom). But as usual, he just needs some money first. This isn’t going the end well. It’s film noir, of course it isn’t going to end well.
As noir goes, this is one of the darkest. In fact, one of the ground-breaking things about the movie is the fact that none of the characters are sympathetic. You think that one’s OK? Believe us, by the end of the movie you’ll have changed your mind. Everyone betrays everyone. Being film noir, we know Harry is doomed. But actually, all these unhappy people are, after 100 minutes-or-so of running around, all a lot less happy than they started even if they’re lucky enough to still be breathing at all. But that’s what you pay your money for in this kind of film. It’s still a great ride.
There are hidden depths to every character and pretty much all the cast are brilliant. It’s an early role for Widmark so it’s curious to see him in a less heroic role than we’re used to. Googie Withers in the complex role of a nightclub owner’s wife delivers one of the best performances you’ll see in this kind of film. And then there are the real locations of London itself, looking far more dark and threatening than New York has ever done. Blu-ray always does these kind of things well and this can give The Third Man (1949) a run for its money in the visual stakes.
There’s one more oddity to all this: the American and British versions were quite different. Here you get both. So all in all, you’ll be needing this one.
Special Features: Commentaries / Interviews / Trailer / Illustrated booklet
NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) / DIRECTOR: JULES DASSIN / SCREENPLAY: JO EISINGER / STARRING: RICHARD WIDMARK, GENE TIERNEY, GOOGIE WITHERS, HERBERT LOM, HUGH MARLOWE, FRANCIS L. SULLIVAN / RELEASED: OUT NOW