Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Night and the City (1950) at UCLA

The second film on tonight's double bill in UCLA's Hollywood Exiles in Europe series was NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950).

NIGHT AND THE CITY, like the evening's earlier film RIFIFI (1955), was directed by Jules Dassin.

The movie was shot in London by Max Greene, and the gleaming black and white cinematography of that postwar city is, in my opinion, the film's greatest attribute. Visually this film is a real winner, and the 35mm print shown by UCLA was absolutely gorgeous. This is a film which those who love London as I do should see at least once, just to take in the fantastic visuals.

Storywise I can't say I was enamored with this 20th Century-Fox film, despite my admiration for its lead actors, Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney. It's a dark film about a loser, Harry Fabian (Widmark), who wants to be a hotshot entrepreneur but lacks the intelligence, the expertise, or the capital to succeed at much of anything. Harry always falls for the latest "hot deal" on the streets and always loses.

Part of the movie's problem is that, unlike RIFIFI, the viewer doesn't feel any sense of sympathy for the lead character. Like most of the people who know him, this viewer just thought "What a loser!" I didn't care and wasn't really interested in anything he did, especially as much of the film has to do with boxing. The boxing scenes include a "to the death" match between characters played by Mike Mazurki and Stanislaus Zbyszko which I didn't care to watch.

Gene Tierney's character is a supporting player who is almost an afterthought. She's the one I really had questions about: Why is this American in London? Why does she love Harry? Why has this lovely woman settled for a man and a job which don't make her happy? There's absolutely zero explanation for why she has a relationship with Harry, other than her reference to a photo of them in their past.

Hugh Marlowe's artist character receives even more short shrift, appearing in two scenes; his main purpose seems to be so the audience won't worry about what's going to happen to Gene Tierney. Like Widmark and Tierney, Marlowe plays yet another American living in London without any explanation. Had the men remained there after wartime service?

Standouts among the supporting cast are Googie Withers as the mercenary wife of a corpulent nightclub owner (Francis L. Sullivan), and Herbert Lom as Kristo, a fight promoter who ultimately goes after Harry, who enticed Kristo's father into a fight.

Jo Eisinger's screenplay was based on a novel by Gerald Kersh. It runs 96 minutes.

NIGHT AND THE CITY is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. It's available for DVD rental from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

It's also out on VHS.


Blogger john k said...

What I loved about this film is that it provides it's own unique
"take" on London.
Apart from the climax there is only one daytime scene a conversation
between Widmark and Sullivan in Trafalgar Square.
This was filmed during the day among real crowds.
What I really liked was the way the "well heeled" patrons of the
various "clip joints" and drinking clubs mingle with the rather
Dickensian vagrants and down and outs-their respective worlds
almost seem to collide.
My only complaint about this remarkable film is that both Tierney
and Marlowe are under used,which is a pity.

3:33 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I agree that there is not really one likeable character here but then that is the case sometimes with "noir".

The evocation of a drab post-war London that some of us still remember is just right.

Googie Withers is the stand-out for me. Her relationship with her "other half", Francis L. Sullivan, is very well-drawn.

12:20 AM  

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