The Night and the City is a film from one of film noir’s greatest directors, Jules Dassin. Dassin was a target of the Communist hunt in Hollywood and was sent to London to start filming this film to get him out of the country. This was his last Hollywood film for years after being put on the blacklist. He left for France where he made a few more classic films, before his return to Hollywood.
There is two versions of this film, one is a shorter American version and a longer British edit. I watched the shorter American cut, which seems to be Dassin’s preferred version because of it’s tighter edit and more clear dialog.
This film stars Richard Widmark and his signature laugh. He plays a street hustler in London, using anybody and everybody he meets for money or a way to get ahead. The film starts with Widmark’s Harry Fabian running at night through the city as somebody chases him. He runs to an apartment building, and seems to have lost all the stress he was just under. He enters the apartment and soon is riffling through a purse looking for money. Mary played by Gene Tierney is seen coming out of the shadows. Mary and Harry are a couple and Mary is tired of his hustling. She gets him the money Harry owes the man chasing him and Harry is free to start his next hustle.
Harry gives us a tour through the underworld of London and we meet a number of con men, hustlers and shady business owners. Harry uses a number of these people to get ahead on his latest ploy. Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan play a dysfunctional wed couple that will cross each other for love and hate. Harry’s latest scheme involves starting his own pro wrestling promotion. Herbert Lom plays the current wrestling promoter in London and will do whatever he needs to eliminate the competition.
This is pretty unique in we get wrestling instead of boxing as our noir sport of choice. This seems to mirror how wrestling territories where back in this time, as well as showing the move from traditional wrestling to the entertainment wrestling we have today. Ex-pro wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko plays the old guard, wanting to keep the art of traditional pro wrestling alive. Unfortunately this was the only screen appearance by Zbyszko, who is great in this film. Zbyszko in real life echoed his on screen character.
Mike Mazurki was also a pro wrestler and plays The Strangler. The Strangler is the big draw in London and is part of the new guard of entertaining wrestlers Zbyszko’s character thinks is destroying the art of wrestling. Mazurki moved from wrestling to the movies and was one of the first actors to be type cast as the heavy or thug and had a film career that lasted over 50 years.
The inevitable wrestling match in this film is amazing. The scene lasts over 4 minutes and is one of the best fight scenes in film noir. This is a very complex film with may reasons to view it. It has one of the most brutal and heart wrenching ending in classic film noir.
This film is based on the book by the same name written by Gerald Kersh. This book was originally published in 1938 and was kicked around for years in Hollywood. A lot of this had to do with timing, the book is very dark and shows crime in a very different way then audiences were used too. Thanks to a long run of film noir, Hollywood decided the public was ready. I have not read the book, but from my little research, it appears the movie varies from the source material for a number of reasons.
This film was also remade in 1992 starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange.
I loved this film and think it is required viewing for any film noir fan, classic movie fan and I feel pro-wrestling fans or those that would like to learn more about pro-wrestling will enjoy this as well.