Night and the City (Directors Suite) (1950)
Audio Commentary-Drs Wendy Haslem and Alex Ling
Featurette-Hollywood Remembers : Richard Widmark
|Year Of Production||1950|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Jules Dassin|
Francis L. Sullivan
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
It is hard not to think of director Jules Dassin as anything but a Frenchman. After all, leaving aside the distinctly Gallic name, his most famous work is Rififi, the definitive French crime flick.
In fact, Dassin was Brooklyn-born and only moved to Europe to escape the long arm of House Un-American Activities Committee. Briefly a member of the Communist Party Dassin found it increasingly difficult to get work in the United States and was eventually blacklisted. There is a wonderful quote on the inside of the DVD case from Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck which summed up his plight:
"You're going to England. Get a f@#king script done, begin shooting, start with the most expensive scenes and they won't fire you, because it's probably going to be the last picture you ever make"
He was half right. Dassin continued to make quality movies in a long career right up until Circle of Two in 1980. However, from 1950 until his death in 2008 he was never an American filmmaker, instead directing French and Greek films. The move into Greek cinema was prompted by a meeting with the love of his life and muse, Melina Mercouri, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. She was to dominate the rest of his career and become a huge star with his film Never on Sunday.
Night and the City is classic film noir except that the mean streets of New York or Los Angeles have been replaced with the dingy underworld of London. The script, by Gilda penman Jo Eisinger was based on the novel of the same name by pulp legend Gerald Kersh. Dassin later admitted that he hadn't read the novel and Kersh once joked that he was the highest paid writer in film history as they had paid him thousands of dollars for each word in the title, junking the rest of his book! What does remain is the main character and the grim tale of a two-bit shyster on a downward spiral.
The film of Night and the City is an always interesting, sometimes gripping noir than moves through the London dark night at a rattling place. Shot in stylishly lit black and white, it is quintessential noir.
Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a man who "wants to be something". Trouble is, he doesn't want to take the long, conventional route to success. He is always on the make, always about to make the big score that will set him up for life. Right now he is a nightclub tout, encouraging businessmen to frequent the Silver Fox, a nightclub with ladies on hand to encourage their new "friends" to spend big on champers and dances. Harry's girlfriend Mary (Gene Tierney) works at the Silver Fox. She wants out, she wants a normal life. She wants to get back to the "old days" with the Harry she first met and fell in love with. Harry loves her deeply and is sure that they will be forever happy, once he makes the next deal.
On the lookout for marks, Harry attends a wrestling match put on by London "identity" Christo (Herbert Lom). He sees a walkout by an elderly man who turns out to be Gregorius the Great (real wresting legend Stanislaus Zbyszko). Gregorius is a traditionalist Greco-Roman wrestler who has come to England with his son Nikolas of Athens (British wrestler Ken Richmond) to see how other son Christo has spread the majesty of wrestling in England. Watching the theatrical spectacle of wrestling he is no impressed and resolves to return to Greece. Seizing the chance Harry charms Grgorius and convinces him to present Nikolas at a Greco-Roman wrestling event.
Christo knows the kind of man Harry is and is determined to stop him. Christo is not a man to be crossed but he has to tread carefully to avoid upsetting his father.
To achieve his grand plans Harry has to get money. He has got limited options. He has taken about as much as he can get from the long-suffering Mary. He turns to the owner of the Silver Fox, Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) who promises that if Harry can get 200 quid he will match it with his own. Phil has his own plans. He thinks his wife Helen (Googie Withers), who he loves dearly, is cheating on him with Harry. He forms an elaborate scheme to see Harry get his comeuppance by bringing him into conflict with Christo. Meanwhile, Helen does have plans to cheat on Phil - but not with Harry. She wants to open her own club and gives Harry the 200 quid so that he can get a licence for her to open it. She makes him promise not to use the money to finance the wrestling venture. Seeing Harry's pedigree, an unwise decision.
Night and the City plays out as a classic film noir with the crosses becoming double crosses and everybody having their dark night of the soul. Widmark is wonderful as Harry. He is clearly not evil yet he does terrible things all because of the insatiable desire to prove himself. As a friend of Mary's says Harry is "an artist without an art". He is addicted to his dreams and makes mistakes with big consequences. Tierney is her usual beautiful self in the film. Although she receives equal billing her role is small. Apparently, Tierney was cast to keep her working as a way to cope with the personal problems and mental health issues that were eventually to end her career. The real stars of the film are the underworld characters. Herbert Lom is a suave, commanding hoodlum who uses lawyers to make threats. Googie Withers is wonderfully nasty as Helen and Francis L Sullivan is superbly oily and calculating. Even the wrestlers do a good job in their roles. Acting aside the wrestling scene between the Greek men and "The Strangler" are surprisingly effective and dramatic, brutal even, of men locked in mortal combat.
Night and the City is an essential addition to any noir library. Dassin's cinematographer Max Greene shoots in dark, often at oblique angles, with a skill that recalls Welles rather than pulp cinema. The film was remade with middling success in 1992 with Robert de Niro as Harry Fabian.
Night and the City was filmed and projected at the academy flat 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This Madman entertainment DVD closely mirrors that ratio. Naturally, it is not 16x9 enhanced.
This film has not gone through a detailed digital restoration before being issued on DVD. However, in this case the final product has come out looking pretty good. For a film that is almost 60 years old there are a surprisingly small amount of scratches, marks and other artefacts. Once or twice the reel changes brought a pause but again nothing to be concerned about.
The level of grain is light. The most important feature, the black levels, are well handled and balanced.
Compression is not an issue due to the fact that the film has been given space to breathe on the dual-layered DVD9. The layer change is noticeable at 71.54 but not disturbing.
There are no subtitles.
Night and the City has a Dolby digital 2.0 mono transfer running at 224Kb/s.
The soundtrack is appropriate for the film and it does not lack for a surround track. Dialogue can be heard clearly. The actors appear to be in audio sync. The score is by Hitchcock favourite Franz Waxman and is suitably dramatic and dread-inducing at all the right moments. In fact, there were two versions of the film made - for the US and UK markets. The latter had an altered ending and a completely different score. Apparently rights issues have prevented the UK version from getting a DVD airing.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are a couple of extras on this DVD but they must be considered light in comparison with the versions of this film available in other Regions.
A typical 1950's theatrical trailer full of action and drama.
Dr Wendy Haslem is a lecturer in Cinema Studies at the University of Melbourne and Dr Alex Ling is from the Cinema Studies Program at the School of Culture and Communications also at the University of Melbourne. Haslem lectures in noir and has a good working knowledge of the ideas and concepts behind the film. She dominates the proceeding and goes beyond the film into the whole McCarthy era USA. Joint commentaries are always a mixed bag as they often require even more careful planning to work out areas of discussion but this is not bad and worth a listen.
I have always found the Hollywood Remembers series to be the chocolate teapots of the DVD extra world. These features comprise a film by film summary of the actors career, narrated in a Troy McLure style, and featuring extracts taken principally if not entirely from film trailers. Not only are trailers often in shocking condition but they sometimes don't even include the key actor being remembered. In this case Richard Widmark is done a disservice. He is an actor who has not been the subject of much attention (he died last year) and it would have been nice to get a good guide to his career. This is not it. If further proof was needed, according to this featurette he went from Slattery's Hurricane in 1949 to The Frogmen in 1951. He didn't, he made a film called Night and the City.
The film is available on DVD in Regions 1 and 2.
The Region 1 Criterion Collection offers a swag bag of extras:
The BFI Region 2 release is not that far behind though. It too has a commentary and the key lengthy extras above. It doesn't have the booklet essay.
Comparisons between the two suggest that the differences are a matter of taste.
Night and the City is a gripping noir with a standout performance from Richard Widmark as the man permanently trying to catch up. In perfect noir tradition everything he does is doomed to failure and the real question posed in the film is how many people he will take down with him when he goes.
A pretty good transfer is on offer with acceptable sound and vision.
The round of extras are slight compared to the other Region releases.
|DVD||Pioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||Pioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||JBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer|