I love this movie, it’s the perfect example of film noir. It’s dark, gritty, brilliant photographed and brutal. It follows a two-bit hustler named Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark). Harry is always trying come up with a better score. The movie is set in London as Harry tries to muscle into the wrestling racket.
Harry’s girl Mary (Gene Tierney) is good and honest. The rest of Harry’s friends are another story. Harry goes to nightclub owner Phil (Francis L. Sullivan) and Phil’s wife Helen (Googie Withers) for money so he can set up his own wrestling venue.
Wrestling in London is all run by a guy named Kristo (Herbert Lom) but Kristo’s father Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko) is a wrestler and is also pissed at his son. Gregorius has agreed to work for Harry as long as Harry comes up with the money. When Kristo finds out he meets with Phil and the two plot Harry’s death. Harry gets a fight for Gregorius with The Strangler but needs more money to pay for The Strangler. Harry ends up stealing the dough from Mary. Then things start going really bad for Harry.
There are two different versions of Night and the City. There is the American cut and then a longer British cut that has a happier ending. Both versions are available on Criterion’s Blu ray. Director Jules Dassin was American (he’s often mistakenly thought of as a European filmmaker) and his preferred cut is the American one. I prefer it too. It’s the darker ending that just kicks you in the gut when watching the movie that ties all of it together.
Dassin made several crime thrillers (later regarded as film noir) in the 1940’s and early ’50s. Excellent films like Brute Force, The Naked City and Thieves’ Highway. While making Night and the City he was blacklisted by Hollywood. He eventually ended up in Europe where he made the brilliant Rififi. He would spend the rest of his life making movies in Europe before he eventually retired.
Night and the City is a fantastic movie. Most of the characters are unlikable and Widmark is excellent as Harry who is trying and over-reaching for a big score, not really caring who he hurts. There’s brutal five minute wrestling fight that sets off the chain of events for Harry’s downfall and Herbert Lom’s Kristo is suitably menacing. The movie wasn’t well received when it was released in 1950 but it has been reevaluated as the classic film noir movie that it is.