Saturday, January 19, 2013

Night and the city 1950

Scurrying across the streets and alleys of post war London Noir nights like a rat is Harry Fabian played by Richard Widmark who is always on the run from hoods and creditors he owes money to. Based on a Gerald Kersh novel Night and the City was directed by the black listed and also on the run, the hunted and haunted Jules Dassin. Widmark plays a two bit schemer always on the make and always on the look out for his 2nd act, which of course never comes. Everything he touches instead of turning to gold turns to shit including his one sided romance with his naive girlfriend played by an unlikely Gene Tierney. Both are ex-patriots who along with a third wheel played by Hugh Marlow are living low in London town but we never really find out how and why they left the USA to try to make it in the UK. I don’t know if this is really important but it did make me wonder. Set among the seamy underworld of dives, dumps and sewers with bars in them and peopled by a wide assortment of colorful low lives, the best one being Philip Nosseross played by the great Frances L. Sullivan who brings  a feeling of Dickens to the film because of the several films he did that were based on his works. Dassin also brings to the film a big helping of Fritz Lang and Brecht, think of M and The Three Penny Opera.  Dassin knows how to stir a pot even when on the lam. Sullivan built like a mountain runs a dive where Tierney sings for hers and Widmarks supper and where Widmark also works lining up easy to con American tourists to the joint so they can be milked for their money by B girls who sell watered down drinks and overpriced cheap boxes of chocolates. The dame behind the scene who runs it all is Sullivan’s nasty wife played like a plate of cold leftover bangers and mash by the very good Googie Withers, a name that fits this actress to a T, one look from Googie and everything withers. Harry is caught up in a wrestling scheme and con that involves his crossing the boss of this “sport” played by Herbert Lom.  He’s also conning Lom’s kind and gullible dad who is a famous retired wrestler himself. The wheels of this ruse are complicated and deadly for all involved. This was a busy year for Widmark who made a whopping four films and who does a good job here playing low and greasy and he keeps his trademark nervous giggle to a minimum. The Criterion transfer is beautiful (no surprise there) and the extras include 2 interviews with Dassin and a comparison between the American release and the British release which has footage not in the US version and also a comparison between the 2 different scores for the films. The American version has a thumping one by Franz Waxman and a milder one for the British version by Benjamin Frankel, I prefer the thumping Waxman score. The beautiful noirish expressionistic cinematography is by Mutz Greenbaum who began his career in Germany in 1915 and should be more well known than he is. Almost one of the ten best films of 1950.


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