This week in the best of film noir, I thought we’d jump across the pond and look at a classic film that takes place in London. Night And The City is the story of a hustler named Harry Fabian who desperately wants a life of ease. Unfortunately for him, his schemes never lead anywhere. But then Fabian comes across what seems to be the chance of a lifetime: control of the wrestling world through Gregorius the Great. But the tables turn on Fabian, leading to an inevitable dire ending. Night And The City is film noir on Shakespearean levels and well worth watching.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
Richard Widmark plays Fabian, and he does a fine job. Many consider this Widmark’s finest role. I love how the movie starts and ends, with Fabian running through the dark streets of London. As a writer, this feeling of things coming full circle works so well. It’s also interesting to see how this character, who is doomed from the start, tries to escape circumstances brought about by his own actions. It is fascinating to see how Fabian, near the end, feels that he was so close, and yet we know that he never was. And we sympathize with Fabian. To get the viewer to feel this way is great writing, acting, and directing.
The Best of Film Noir – The Supporting Cast
I usually focus on the femme fatale, but in Night And The City, we don’t necessarily have one. Gene Tierney plays Mary Bristol, Fabian’s girlfriend, and she tries to get Fabian to play it straight. She’s not one that is trying to bring him down. Where Night And The City really shines with its cast is in the bad guys opposite Fabian. Herbert Lom plays Kristo, a wrestling promoter and underworld boss. Kristo is estranged from his father (Gregorius the Great) but longs for his father’s approval. Lom delivers a brilliant performance. And Francis L. Sullivan plays menacing nightclub owner Phil Nosseross, a huge, slow-moving man devoted to his wife, but painfully aware that she loathes him. We feel for this man as he makes a tragic decision because of his own human frailties and vulnerabilities.
The Best of Film Noir – The Setting
This is one film noir that really captures the black-and-white, nitty-gritty of a city. Directed by Jules Dassin, Night And The City‘s London is not presented as a desirable tourist destination. No, in this film noir, we get the dark, seamy side of London at night. We get shadows and run-down buildings, and characters teeming with desperation. As with most of our film noir, corruption runs deep, and it of course brings down our noir hero in the end. But we also have an example of noir where the bad guys win.
The Best of Film Noir – The Ending
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but many consider Night And The City to have the ultimate noir ending. It is tragic and yet delivered without much emotion. It almost leaves you with a feeling of this is just the way it is. Many feel that Fabian got what he deserved, and yet we also feel a tinge of regret for what might have been (Fabian’s girlfriend Mary Bristol’s speech helps in this regard). If you like noir, this is a must-see.
A remake of Night And The City was done in 1992 with Robert DeNiro, but it changes setting to New York, and many feel this change, combined with a more sentimental feel, hurts the film.
So get your popcorn and soda and hunker down for a good old-fashioned tale of dreams gone bad.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat. And stay tuned for a new Reed Ferguson mystery, available next month!
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor (Amazon top reviewer)