Night and the City (1950): Dassin’s Film Noir, Starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney

Jules Dassin directed this film noir, based on a novel by Gerald Kersh, and shot on location in London and at Shepperton Studios.

Richard Widmark, in his seventh film, is well cast as Harry Fabian, an ambitious hustler and con man in London, endlessly looking for better deals. He is in a relationship with the honest Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney), nightclub owner and businessman Phil Nosseross (Sullivan), and Helen (Googie Withers), Phil’s estranged wife.

During a con at a wrestling match, Fabian witnesses Gregorius (Zbyszko), a vet Greek wrestler, arguing with his son Kristo (Lom), who has organized the fight, and who controls wrestling in London.

Fabian befriends Gregorius Nikolas (Richmond), realizing he can host wrestling in London without interference from Kristo if he can persuade his father to support the enterprise.

Fabian approaches Phil and Helen with his proposal, then asks for an investment. Phil offers to provide half of the required £400, if Fabian can match it. Desperate, Fabian asks Figler, a panhandler and unofficial head of an informal society of criminals, Googin, a forger, and Anna, a Thameside smuggler, but none can offer help.

Eventually, Helenoffers the £200 in exchange for license to continue running her nightclub; she got the money by selling expensive fur. Fabian tricks Helen by having Googin forge the license.

Phil is visited by associates of Kristo, who warn him to keep Fabian away from the wrestling scene. Phil neglects to warn Fabian, who opens his gym with Gregorius and Nikolas as the stars, and Phil as silent partner.

Kristo visits the gym, and discovers that his father supports Fabian. Meeting with Phil, the two plot to kill Fabian.

Phil removes his backing, and suggests that Fabian get Nikolas and the Strangler (Mazurki), a showy wrestler, into the ring to keep the business going. Gregorius is convinced by Fabian that the fight will prove that his wrestling mode is superior.

The Strangler goads Gregorius into a long, brutal fight, in which Nikolas’ wrist is broken. Gregorius defeats The Strangler in the ring, but dies later in his son’s arms from exhaustion. With business and protection lost, Fabian flees.

Kristo puts a £1,000 bounty on Fabian’s head, spreading the word among London’s underworld. Fabian is hunted through the night, by Kristo’s men and by Figler, who attempts to trap Fabian for the reward. When Helen discovers that her license is forged, she returns to Phil, who had committed suicide, leaving his fortune to Molly (Reeve), the club’s cleaner and flower stand operator.

Fabian is tracked down by Kristo. Fabian tries to redeem himself by shouting to Kristo that Mary betrayed him in order to get the reward. On Hammersmith Bridge, he is caught and killed by The Strangler, who dumps his body into the Thames.

In the last scene, The Strangler is arrested, while Kristo walks away from the scene.

Dassin was forced to cast Gene Tierney by Fox’s head Darryl Zanuck, who was concerned that his star was getting too depressed and even suicidal.

The film’s British version was 5 minutes longer, with a more upbeat ending and featuring a different score.

The film contains a long, tough and prolonged fight scene between Stanislaus Zbyszko, a professional wrestler, and Mike Mazurki, who had also been a wrestler prior to acting.

Grim to a fault, the film has no positive or 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.

Initially, the film was poorly received by reviewers, but in the 1960s, auteurist critics reevaluated in the 1960s, as a major contribution to the genre of film noir.

It was Dassin’s first movie after being exiled from America for alleged communist politics.

The unpleasant ordeal seems to have infused his work with resentment and pessimism

Foolhardy scam-artist Harry Fabian and his ill-advised attempts to become a big shot, anger, anxiety, and hatred.

Atkinson: 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

Critic Andrew Dickos it as one of the seminal noirs of the classical period. a perfect fusion of mood and character, Dassin created a work of emotional power and existential drama, noir pathos and despair.”