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Night & the City (The Criterion Collection)
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Two-bit hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) aches for a life of ease and plenty. Trailed by an inglorious history of go-nowhere schemes, he stumbles upon a chance of a lifetime in the form of legendary wrestler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko). But there is no easy money in this underworld of shifting alliances, bottomless graft, and pummeled fleshand soon Fabian learns the horrible price of his ambition. Luminously shot in the streets of London, Jules Dassins Night and the City is film noir of the first order and one of the directors crowning achievements.
Richard Widmark never had better exercise for his Cagney-like bouncing-ball energy than Night and the City, a classic film noir about a hustler's meteoric flame-out. Although acknowledged as one of the great noir pictures, it's actually set and shot in London, which gives an exotic, displaced novelty to the usual noir universe. Widmark's performance as Harry Fabian is a jibbering, wheedling, giggling tour de force, as Harry schemes his way to setting up a wrestling match and finally establishing himself as a "somebody." Instead, he manages to irritate the underworld heavies (memorably, Herbert Lom and Francis L. Sullivan) whose fingers are already deeply into the criminal pie. Gene Tierney and Googie Withers are the women--one good, one bad--who witness Harry's descent. This was director Jules Dassin's final project for a Hollywood studio before the blacklist forced him out, and he packs the film with tortured camera angles and spidery noir shadows; the movie's a real visual clambake. Night and the City was remade, tiredly, with Robert De Niro in 1992. Bonus: See how strongly this movie has influenced Martin Scorsese. --Robert HortonSee all Product Description
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The cinematography in this film is classic film noir. The film exposes a depressing beauty of the seedy underbelly of London in glorious black and white. Dassin's direction is creative and subtle, as he unravels at a careful pace the angst, frustration, and inevitable descent of the Widmark character, soaking up and igniting the atmospheric quality of the film that makes it such a great film noir.
This film is totally dominated by Richard Widmark. His performance is absolutely unforgettable. The rest of the cast are competent, but are overshadowed by Widmark and his performance. However, special kudos should go to the performance of Stanislaus Zbyszko, who portrays a retired wrestler making a comeback as a decent and sensitive individual who becomes a loyal friend to the Widmark character.
This is probably Dassin's best film in my opinion. A film that at times may be depressing and uncomfortable to watch, but at the same time easily recognizable as one of the best film noirs ever made.
Widmark at his best in this 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 - dark brooding noir.
Under the production staff of:
Jules Dassin [Director]
Jo Eisinger [Screenwriter]
Gerald Kersh [Novel]
Samuel G. Engel [Producer]
Benjamin Frankel [Original Film Score - British version]
Franz Waxman [Original Film Score - American version]
Max Greene [Cinematographer]
Nick De Maggio [Film Editor]
Sidney Stone [Film Editor]
1. Jules Dassin [Director]
Date of Birth: 18 December 1911 - Middletown, Connecticut
Date of Death: 31 March 2008 - Athens, Greece
2. Richard Widmark
Date of Birth: 26 December 1914 - Sunrise Township, Minnesota
Date of Death: 24 March 2008 - Roxbury, Connecticut
3. Gene Tierney
Date of Birth: 19 November 1920 - Brooklyn, New York
Date of Death: 6 November 1991 - Houston, Texas
the cast includes:
Richard Widmark ... [Harry Fabian]
Gene Tierney ... [Mary Bristol]
Googie Withers ... [Helen Nosseross]
Hugh Marlowe ... [Adam Dunn]
Francis L. Sullivan ...Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The film begins and ends with restless, unscrupulous Harry Fabian; "An artist without an art" played by Richard Widmark, dodging pursuers, fleeing like a rat though a maze of dark streets. Quick-witted Harry desperately wants to realize his grandiose scheme of becoming a big-time wrestling promoter. Always on the run, carrying a sack of lies and deception possibly bestowed by the Olympian Hermes himself, he scurries through the movie along winding, treacherous streets and alleyways, while hastily creating the masterpiece of a lifetime. But when all else fails, he too is capable of making the supreme sacrifice to help his girlfriend Mary by executing the final con of his career.
Underworld figures in Night and the City are cold and calculating, yet they are also real people: hard, but vulnerable. Absent are the emotionless psychopaths of modern film, possessing an inexhaustible supply of ammunition loaded by tireless fiends with superhuman ability to snuff out life without remorse. We see the major characters in Night and the City, Harry Fabian, Kristo, Helen and Philip Nosseross, as frail human beings in an anything-goes wrestling match with the vicissitudes of life, "scheming their way through unpredictable circumstances." (DVD commentary) The struggle against fate always lays them open to defeat, because of a tragic flaw, inner weakness, or simply being too smart or crooked for their own good. Motivated by greed and ambition with a slosh of conceit, they believe life is unfair, and owes them a big score. Capable of genuine affection, they love "not wisely, but too well."
Gene Tierney's role as Mary Bristol, Fabian's all-forgiving girlfriend, is disappointingly small for such a great talent; she exists only on the periphery. Controversy surrounds her singing `debut' in one club scene. It was dubbed-in for the British version, but there is a veil of uncertainty surrounding the American version. A sample of her singing voice can be heard in the jail scene in "That Wonderful Urge" 1948. Let the viewer decide. Mary serves as the unwilling patron of Fabian's artifice; a significant source of ready cash, which he continuously purloins; and subject of the one good deed he attempts, presenting himself as an offering. Dassin's Fabian is a scapegoat for the sins of the world: greed, ambition, conceit. Cornered by Kristo's men, he expresses remorse to an old woman in a beautifully, composed shot strikingly reminiscent of Michelangelo's "Pieta".
The highlight of the movie is a King Kong vs. Godzilla style clash between two titan wrestlers fighting to prove the superiority of their style and values. This after-hours, out of control, grudge match, between Gregorius, master of the Greco-Roman style, and The Strangler, champion of the faked spectacle we see today, is arguably one on the best fight scenes ever filmed. The commentary for Night and the City is excellent providing a rich background of the script, actors careers, and the life and times of Jules Dassin.
Nighttime shots of London's famous landmarks such as Big Ben, the Thames, and the neon signs of Piccadilly Square take place while an ominous voice reminds the audience of the night and any night. This opening offers a powerful impression on the audience, as it presents a symbolic visual together with the narration of the dangers that lurk the streets during the dark hours. The visuals are accompanied by restrained tunes, which bring a feeling of a bad omen. Suddenly, the creepy tune is interrupted by an alarming fast-paced tune, as Henry Fabian is trying to escape someone who is following him. The chase brings Henry to his girlfriend's place where he seeks shelter from the following man. The brief meeting between Henry and his girlfriend Mary (Gene Tierney) displays the true nature behind Henry's character, which in essence, is an insecure flighty opportunist without morals or backbone. Mary, who has known him for a long time knows this, but is helpless due to her strong affections to Henry.
Henry's persona is built on only one thing - money. The job he has is to get people to give him, or more precise his boss, Phil (Francis L. Sullivan), money to the private Silver Fox Club. The dreams Henry has surround money, and it appears to the audience that only money can make him happy. Skillfully Henry cons men to visit the private club, which only exists to exploit the weakness of lonesome men. These visiting men have to pay excessive amounts of money to fill their insecurities with phony affection, as the women say nice things and ask the men to buy them chocolates and cheap champagne. Henry's existence is as hollow as this establishment for which he works, but he is completely unaware of his emotional neglect or lack of a real skill as his eyes are set on money. Mary's neighbor, Adam (Hugh Marlowe), points out the most important aspect of Henry by stating "Henry is an artist without an art."
When Henry visits a wrestling match to recruit more visitors to the club he overhears the infamous wrestler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko) loudly discredit the wrestling match. Gregorius finds the wrestling match to be a circus, as he finds it offensive in regards to the true nature of Greco-roman wrestling. His son Kristo (Herbert Lom) responds to the accusations that wrestling must change with the times. However, Gregorius is offended and walks off. Henry discovers that he sits on a golden egg, as he rushes off to convince Gregorius that Greco-roman wrestling can still conquer the audience and that it is far superior. During this scene it is evident that Henry does not care about wrestling, as he seeks the quick way to riches for himself without consideration for others.
Quickly Henry seeks people with capital to invest in his idea, as he is about to erect his biggest sand castle ever. Initially people laugh at him, however, it only infuriates him. This anger provides an internal motivation for him to seek investors, as Phil has promised to match his assets that are put into the financial venture. On Henry's quest for an investor he finds that no one wants to have anything to do with him, or his idea, until he meets Helen (Googie Withers) Phil's wife. Helen is willing to put up the money for a favor to which Henry agrees. With the starting capital Henry seems to be in heaven, as he can now begin rake in the money. Kristo sets stops to Henry's attempts to start the Greco-roman wrestling organization in a lawful way, but when Kristo finds out that he has turned his father against him it begins to turn very ugly.
Night and the City is a magnificent story depicted through skillful cinematography, which is enhanced through how each scene is framed. In addition, the mise-en-scene helps develop the strong undercurrents in the film, as feelings such as envy, greed, love, and deceit are depicted. The cast performs very well and they enhance the feelings through their body language and how they look upon one another--not to mention, the script, which is brilliant. However, it is the final product, the story, which generates a truly brilliant cinematic experience, which will leave the audience with thoughts to reflect on while having experienced an intriguing tale of a man's misled fate.
I know this will not be a popular opinion, but for great film noir, try Dassin's Rififi or Melville's Bob Le Flambeur or Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi. This piece of American noir just has not weathered the years as well its French counterparts.
Certainly, all film noir can be read on the simplest level as moralizing fables, where the audience (superficially) always learns the same thing: crime (usually) doesn't pay. The best noir films, however, are able to deepen this lesson with human complexity that makes us see these characters reflected in ourselves and their actions in our own lives. More basic and fundamental human truths are revealed, and human nature itself is even questioned. In the case of Night and the City, though, the performances only distance us from the characters as the film moves along, and by the end, Widmark is so easily pigeonholed as a character who has "made too many mistakes," that it is impossible to imagine oneself in his struggle. The film asks us to put ourselves in his place (and not every film does, but this one definitely does), but we can't. His decisions have been too obviously outlandish.
If you enjoy watching films and judging the characters in them from your couch, pointing out their flaws and feeling superior to them, certainly this is the film for you, and a good one. Your high self opinion will surely be confirmed. If you prefer your morals on the fuzzy side, however, try a different, grayer noir. This one was just too black and white.
"Night and the City" takes place among the hustlers, club owners, and purveyors of evening entertainment in London. Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) works as a club tout for The Silver Fox nightclub, targeting monied guests at local hot spots, cozying up to them with tall tales, and sending them over to the club for a good time. But Harry's always got scheme to get rich, as opposed to a plan of how to make a living, much to his girlfriend Mary's (Gene Tierney) chagrin. Harry's "highly inflamed imagination, coupled by delusions of grandeur" -as his employer bluntly remarks- never get him anywhere but into debt. One night Harry overhears a conversation between a old Greco-Roman wrestling champion, Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko), and his son Kristo (Herbert Lom), the promoter for all London's wrestling matches. Harry sees the opportunity to exploit the elder man's distaste for the new flamboyant style of wrestling to set himself up as a promoter of old-style Greco-Roman wrestling. Gregorius agrees to work with him, and, although Kristo has a monopoly on wrestling in London, he is forced to allow Harry to proceed. But Harry must raise the cash to promote his first match. His employer, Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) agrees to put up half of the money if Harry can match it. Harry can only do that by taking money from Nosseross' scheming wife, Helen (Googie Withers), in exchange for illegally obtaining a nightclub license for her. But Phil actually wants Harry ruined and cooperates with Kristo to see that he doesn't succeed.
The plot is convoluted. Harry goes through so many contortions to make himself into a wrestling promoter, it's a wonder he can keep his own scheme straight. Richard Widmark plays Harry beautifully. He's a loser and a heel, but he's surrounded by more predatory creatures than himself. Harry is so self-absorbed that he's blind to the vengeance he has inspired -and, of course, to the very patient woman who loves him. "All my life I've been running," he says. And that's what Harry does for all of this film, figuratively and literally. Other notable performances are Francis L. Sullivan as Phil, a thoroughly greedy man who is not so foolish as Harry, and Stanislaus Zbyszko as the naive but imposing Gregorius. Zbyszko is not a professional actor. He was a wrestling champion and international celebrity in his younger years -and I understand a very cultured man.
Max Greene's cinematography is classic film noir. Most of "Night and the City" takes place at night. It was filmed on location in London's dark, wet streets, which lend themselves perfectly to high contrast lighting and deep focus. I don't think I've ever seen as much close-up wide-angle photography as in this film. Greene brazenly distorts his characters, to a more noticeable extent than in most film noir. "Night and the City" is in some ways an oddity of the film noir style, because it takes place in Europe, was scripted and filmed by Americans, based on a British novel, with a mixed cast whose nationalities are never explained. It's filmed in an American style, but it's not an American film. On the other hand, "Night and the City"'s obsessed, irredeemable characters, cynicism, and visual style are exemplary of film noir. The great performances and noir cinematography are a joy to watch.
The DVD (Criterion Collection 2005 release): This is a very nice package of bonus features, starting with an audio commentary by film scholar Glenn Erikson, who wrote the essay "Expressionist Doom in Night and the City" for the first Film Noir Reader book. In this informative and interesting commentary, Mr. Erikson gives nearly a scene-by-scene analysis of the film in which he discusses and compares 4 versions of the story: the novel, the shooting script, the American Film, and the English film, in terms of story, characters, and history. Other bonus features include a "Jules Dessin Interview" (17 minutes) in which the director talks about casting, shooting the final sequence with 6 cameras, making the movie without having read the book, and being blacklisted in Hollywood. "2 Versions, 2 Scores" (23 minutes) is a documentary knowledgeably narrated by Christopher Husted that compares the film scores of Franz Waxman (American version) and Benjamin Frankel (English version), as well as the two different edits of the film. (Both scores are available on a double CD from [...]) There is a 1972 "Ciné-Parade Interview" (25 minutes) with the director in which Dessin talks to a very curious French interviewer about his difficulties working under the studio system in Hollywood and being blacklisted in the early 1950s. The interview is in French with English subtitles. There is a theatrical trailer for "Night and the City" (2 minutes). Subtitles are available for the film in English, via your remote control "subtitle" button, but I couldn't find a "set-up" or "languages" menu.
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