Friday, July 08, 2011

Night And The City

Night and the City (1950) is a film noir based on the novel by Gerald Kersh, directed by Jules Dassin, and starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney. Shot on location in London, the plot evolves around an ambitious hustler whose plans keep going wrong.

The picture is considered a classic of the film noir genre. Director Dassin later confessed that he never read the novel the movie is based upon. In an interview appearing on The Criterion Collection DVD release, Dassin recalls that the casting of Tierney was in response to a request by Darryl Zanuck, who was concerned that personal problems had rendered the actress "suicidal," and hoped that work would improve her state of mind. The film's British version was five minutes longer, with a more upbeat ending and featuring a completely different film score. Dassin has endorsed the American version as closer to his vision.

The film has been noted as groundbreaking in its lack of sympathetic characters, the deadly punishment of its protagonist (in the American version), and especially in its realistic portrayal of triumph by racketeers neither slowed nor at all worried by the machinations of law. Critics of the time did not react well; typical was Bosley Crowther's review in The New York Times, which read in part, "[Dassin's] evident talent has been spent upon a pointless, trashy yarn, and the best that he has accomplished is a turgid pictorial grotesque...he tried to bluff it with a very poor script—and failed...[the screenplay] is without any real dramatic virtue, reason or valid story-line...little more than a melange of maggoty episodes having to do with the devious endeavors of a cheap London night-club tout to corner the wrestling racket—an ambition in which he fails. And there is only one character in it for whom a decent, respectable person can give a hoot."

The film was first re-evaluated in the 1960s, as film noir became a celebrated genre, and it has continued to receive laudatory reviews to date. Writing for Slant Magazine, Nick Schager said, "Jules Dassin's 1950 masterpiece was his first movie after being exiled from America for alleged communist politics, and the unpleasant ordeal seems to have infused his work with a newfound resentment and pessimism, as the film—about foolhardy scam-artist Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) and his ill-advised attempts to become a big shot—brims with anger, anxiousness, and a shocking dose of unadulterated hatred."

In The Village Voice, film critic Michael Atkinson wrote, "...the movie's a moody piece of Wellesian chiaroscuro (shot by Max Greene, né Mutz Greenbaum) and an occasionally discomfiting underworld plunge, particularly when the mob-controlled wrestling milieu explodes into a kidney-punching donnybrook."In Street with No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir, critic Andrew Dickos acclaims it as one of the seminal noirs of the classical period. noting "in a perfect fusion of mood and character, Dassin created a work of emotional power and existential drama that stands as a paradigm of noir pathos and despair."

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