In 1950, when American director Jules Dassin directed the film Night and the City he was being investigated for un-American activities by the McCarthy Commission. Dassin was subsequently blacklisted meaning he could no longer make films in the USA. He fled to France where he revived his career, notably with the superb heist movie Rififi (1955). We watched Rififi at a previous Film Night and enjoyed it thoroughly, particularly the wordless, music-free half hour depiction of the crime, a meticulous, detailed, stunning piece of cinema.
Night and the City is the story of Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), an American hustler and con-artist at large in London and always promising his girl Mary (Gene Tierney) the riches, the furs, the jewels and the good times that are surely just around the corner, if only he could get his hands on some cash to get the ball rolling.
Harry is always looking for an angle, and when he catches old Greco-Roman wrestler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko) lamenting to his companion and fellow grappler Nikolas of Athens (Ken Richmond) about the state of modern wrestling, he decides to turn his hand to fight promotion.
This pits him against Gregorius’s son Kristo (Herbert Lom), the current controller of wrestling throughout the capital. Still, not to worry. Larger than life nightclub owner and businessman Phil Nosseross, fabulously portrayed by Francis L. Sullivan, will surely put some money up for the enterprise?
Anyway, Harry is reduced to dredging the underworld of London for brass from his dodgy mates. In the end big Phil’s wife, Helen (Googie Withers) offers him £200, a lot in 1950, if Harry can provide her with a licence to start her own nightclub. Harry grabs the lucre and gets one of his crooked cronies to forge a licence.
The gyms and dives of post-war London are the backdrop of Harry’s beautifully filmed, noirish desperation. Gregorius becomes involved in an impromptu fight with The Strangler, one of Kristo’s wrestlers, and although he wins, Gregorius is old and the struggle proves to be his demise.
He dies movingly in his son Kristo’s arms. ‘Close the window my son. I am so cold’.
Things don’t go well for Harry either. He finishes up somewhere as cold and unforgiving as his lust for money, at the bottom of the Thames.
We watched this film twice because not only is it brilliant, but there are two versions.
Part two of the review is here