Night and The City (1950)
O.K. kiddies The Monkey has a terrific one for you today. It is the superb late Film Noir from England, Night and The City. Now, part of the reason The Monkey is such a mopey bastard half the time, is because he watches waaaay too much Noir. And it’s hard to be mister sunshine and fart rainbows when you spend hour after hour watching a genre of film that screams it doesn’t matter what you do because you’re fucked anyway. I mean even in its best moments Noir tells you that the harder you try to get out of your miserable situation the further back you’ll find you are. Anyway, on to the flick.
Night and The City is directed by the always masterful Jules Dassin. He is also responsible for the equally impressive Noir The Naked City and two of the earliest heist films Riffi and Topkapi. Dassin was blacklisted while he was shooting Night, and let me tell you anyone held that suspect by the man is my kind of people.
Night and The City concerns a two-bit bar hustler named Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark, my favorite Noir actor). Fabian comes up with a plan to corner the wrestling market in London. Yeah you heard me right wrestling. Arrayed against him is London’s leading mobster and wrestling promoter Kristo (the always shady Herbert Lom), Fabian’s lover Helen Nosseros (Googie Withers. Isn’t that the best name ever), and Helen’s husband Philip Nosseros (Francis L. Sullivan).
One of the most delightful aspects of Night is the cinematography. Unlike many lesser Noir where low-key light and a big city setting are there because that’s what you do in a Noir, Night imbues them with a living, creeping, palpable menace. The darkness in Night is not a simple lack of light, but instead comes from the dark souls of those which Harry surrounds himself. The darkness shrouds the many dangers of Fabians own dark and exploitive nature. It also hides the assassin after Fabian, more than it conceals Fabian. It is in this darkness that Harry drags himself and all those around him to their inevitable demise. The only source of light in Harry’s life is Mary (Gene Tierney). Fabian has so isolated himself from her in his quest for success, that he spends most of the last third of the film in a world of black and grey.
In other Noirs, the viewer can often feel the protagonist can get ahead if he would just have the sense to leave the city. Often, they do, but their deeds follow them. In Night, no such hope exists for Fabian. London is his prison, and its tenements and towers only force him onward, onward, ever onward in a mad dash towards his hoped for impossible escape from the city. These hopes of escaping across the Thames by boat or by bridges are thwarted by the opportunistic waterfront thieves and swindlers Fabian once called friends.
Night and The City also makes for a fun party drinking game. The rules are simple. Every time someone uses a form of the phrase “You’re a dead man, Harry Fabian,” you take a drink. Now while I have mentioned this I should add that The Monkey takes no responsibility for your medical expenses from the severe alcohol poisoning that will result. Whatever you goal is, be it getting blind stinking drunk or viewing a gem of Film Noir, I urge you to watch Night and The City as soon as you can. If nothing else, it will make all your troubles seem trivial compared to those of Harry Fabian.
Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Jo Eisinger; based on the novel by Gerald Kersh
Cinematographer: Max Greene
Film Editing: Nick De Maggio, Sidney Stone
Music: Franz Waxman
With: Richard Widmark (Harry Fabian), Gene Tierney (Mary Bristol), Googie Withers (Helen Nosseross), Hugh Marlowe (Adam Dunn), Francis L. Sullivan (Philip Nosseross), Herbert Lom (Kristo), Stanislaus Zbyszko (Gregorius), Mike Mazurki (the Strangler), Charles Farrell (Mickey Beer), Ada Reeve (Molly the Flower Lady), Ken. Richmond (Nikolas of Athens)
Black &White-95 minutes