Night and the City: Winkler’s Remake of Dassin’s Noir Classic

Judging by what’s on screen, it is hard to tell what precisely motivated producer-director Irvin Winkler to remake Jules Dassin’s noir classic, Night and the City.

Set in London, the l950 narrative featured Richard Widmark as Harry Fabian, a club tout who is intrigued by the world of wrestling. There were two women in the film: Gene Tierney as Fabian’s girlfriend and the greatness of Dassin’s movie was based on its noirish look and coherent mood

Regrettably, Winkler’s new movie is incoherent and also marred by a sappy, incongruent ending. In the first part of the film, we get a hard-hitting, gritty portrait of half a dozen New York’s denizens. Robert De Niro plays a small-time lawyer, an ambulance chaser lawyer, determined to improve his luck and take a shot at the big time.

The only person who really understands Harry is Helen (Jessica Lange), the bar owner’s abused wife, who is herself looking for a better life. They joined forces together in a scheme that promises to be mutually beneficial. Lange said, “The sweet thing about this film is that it’s not hopeless,” that the characters are not “alienated, isolated, discarded, or frail.” But this is the major weakness of the film, which is grounded in a strange, inconsistent milieu, realistic on the one hand and movieish and mythical on the other.

Most of the action takes place in the bar, but there is no evidence of the ambience of the real-life bar, “The Lion’s Head in Greenwich Village, that reportedly inspired writer Richard Price.
The real bar allegedly attracts a unique combination of Jewish drunks, Irish intellectuals, writers with drinking problems, and drinkers with writing problems. But in the movie, typical screen characters populate it.

After a reasonably good beginning, the plot becomes mechanic and utterly predictable. Moreover, the choice of boxing, instead of the wrestling in the l950 movies, is not very plausible in the context of present-day New York. Visually too, it’s hard to place the movie in a concrete reality.

Robert De Niro shows more energy in his star turn than he had shown in his previous movie for Winkler, the high-minded and pretentious Guilty by Suspicion, but his performance is actorish and inconsequential. De Niro tries too hard to present a likable man and get the audience sympathy in a movie that is curiously distancing and totally uninvolving. Unfortunately, as in her previous outing with De Niro, Cape Fear, Jessica Lange plays an underwritten and incoherent role, one that combines the two female roles in the l950 film. (Would somebody please write a decent role for this great actress).