Monday, January 25, 2010


Original Title: Night and the City
Year: 1950
Director: Jules Dassin
Writer: Jo Eisinger (screenplay), Gerald Kersh (novel)
Genre: Crime, Wrestling

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a London hustler with ambitious plans that never work out. One day, when he encounters the most famous Greco-Roman wrestler in the world, Gregorius, at a London wrestling arena run by his son Kristo, he dreams up a scheme that he thinks will finally be his ticket to financial independence. As Fabian attempts to con everyone around him to get his scheme to work, he of course only ends up conning himself.

I'm really stretching out this wrestling theme... Jesus Christ!

I stumbled across Night and the City late in my wrestling film search game, and I have to say that this is not the sort of film one would expect in the genre. If you've been reading the reviews of these I have written, you will understand this definitely. Night and the City is a nicely done film-noir crime drama with a wrestling backdrop.

Maybe like zombie films, wrestling is best as a driving force in a film - getting the plot ball rolling - as opposed to being the story itself.

I'm familiar with noir as a genre, but I have very little experience actually watching them. Shocker! I think what you may pick up first from this film, and I assume much of the film-noir genre in particular, are the fantastic shots, lighting, etc. Night and the City is a visual feast to borrow a cliche. Deep inky blacks, dramatic angles, eerie night shots; the photography here kept me interested more than anything else. Influential cinematographer Mutz Greenbaum (credited as Max Greene) and Dassin assembled a beautifully sweaty film here. The lighting was at times unrealistic, but had a great illustrative quality.

I love films I can pause at multiple points and get an image that could be a successful painting. That's not to say it's only the still imagery that I enjoyed, because the subtle camera movements, and angles employed as characters would interact add to this as well. The shots often felt claustrophobic as we could feel the tension that our main character Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) felt in his struggles.

I consider myself far more a visual person than anything else, and in this case the looks of the film really stood out. The Criterion transfer of it looks marvelous.

The story in Night and the City was surprising for me. As I said earlier, going into the wrestling genre, one expects similar acting and storytelling that actually happens in pro-wrestling... over the top, corny, really just there for a rise. But the story here is a nice, tense drama with double crosses and solid characterization. Wrestling here serves as the backdrop instead of the plot itself, which seems like it may be the way to go. I suppose one can look at this as a crime drama instead of wrestling really, but a main character is a wrestler, and fuck it... when else am I gonna review something like this??

Widmark's Harry Fabian, who was an interesting, shady, and entertaining character acted pretty well. All the characters in the film are the type of melodramatic characters that seem to pop up in the film-noir crime films, but it works. Widmark grits his teeth, sweats, screams, and runs his ass off. You just know from the beginning that he is headed for trouble as he is the type that is constantly looking for the easy way to make money. As the film focuses on Harry, the performance needed to stand out, and I think Widmark did a great job. His scenes with imposing club owner Phillip (Francis L. Sullivan) were my favorites.

The surprise performance came from Stanislaus Zbyszko as Gregorious. You can tell Zbyszko is not a trained actor, but something was very endearing about him as the wise old wrestler set in his ways. Zbyszko was a strong man/Greco-Roman wrestler from the early 20th century, so the casting of him here works very well. He was at a point in his life where he was training wrestlers, as his character Gregorious does here. He has a fantastic fight scene despite looking very old, and it's really the only wrestling in the film.

The film unfolds slowly, not as an action packed sports film by any means. If you are looking for the corn, cheese, pomp, and circumstance of that many wrestling films would become, this probably isn't your choice. This was really my only trouble with it. Not really a fair criticism I guess, but I think this film could definitely bear rewatching.

For a wonderfully shot, dark, gritty crime film that paints wrestling much more seriously, this is great. High recommendation

Score: 7.75 / 10


Samuel Wilson said...

Give credit where it's due: Mike Mazurki was a pro wrestler also, and it was cool to see Zybysko handle him. This is a great film and the remake with DeNiro is pretty good too despite changing the milieu from wrestling to boxing.

pickleloaf said...

thanks for the comment, Samuel. I'm going to discuss this in a new post actually