(1950) dir. Jules Dassin
Better late than never, I am discovering the work of director Jules Dassin. It’s not like it’s a secret discovery. The fact that most of his films that are available on DVD are Criterion Collection editions tells you pretty safely that he’s solid stuff. Over the past year or so, I’ve watched Rififi (1955) (my favorite) and Brute Force (1947) and now his 1950 film, Night and the City, and all I can say is I can’t wait to watch the next one.
Dassin was one of the filmmakers who was chased out of Hollywood during the Red Scare and blacklisted. Night and the City was filmed on location in London, and essentially was his last film for the Hollywood system that stymied him. Even though his name has such a European sound to it, he’s American, from New York and he made serious contributions to the film noir aesthetic and period crime picture.
Night and the City stars the fantastic Richard Widmark as the poor sap who strives so hard but just doesn’t have what it takes to make it big, only what it takes to make a big mess. He gets involved in a rather convoluted scheme to “take over professional wrestling in London”, aiming to shaft the current promotor, played by a young Herbert Lom. He teams up with a legendary Greek wrestler and his protoge and plans to run roughshod over Lom, protected because the honorable Greek legend is Lom’s semi-estranged father.
It’s kind of confusing to explain, and there is this other angle, borrowing money from the wife of the bar owner that he works for, she thinking they’ve got a “thing”. And then her husband suspects and puts the bite on Widmark. Anyways, it’s a world of duplicitous people and honest people, and sometimes, quite often, each person is both, honest and duplicitious.
The cinematography is amazing, using the city streets of London and the shadowy offices and apartments of the characters as cages for these would be prisoners. Or maybe they are all just prisoners of their own situations. When Widmark is running from the whole city, he is chased across a construction site and climbs the stairs to hide, but has to attack to survive. The scene is brilliantly filmed, moving the camera from shot to shot and catching Widmark’s harried face in varying angles of sweat and fear.
It’s excellent stuff.