Thursday, 24 September 2009

Night and the City [1950]


Though most feel Carol Reed’s The Third Man was the greatest Brit noir, I feel Jules Dassin’s Night and the City was more “noirish” and definitive of the two, and hence should rank higher in the pantheon of great film noirs. McCarthy’s horrendous witch-hunt forced Dassin to flee from America just before he begun working on this movie, and his mental effect clearly shows here. One of the bleakest movies I’ve watched, Night and the City drew a truly nightmarish picture of crime, corruption, human weakness, urban paranoia and existential angst. The basic surmise of the movie is about a small-time hustler who wants to strike big, and who, in the end, "sinks into the quagmire of his own ambition." Terrific camera work, through exceptional use of expressionist lighting, disorienting visuals, chiaroscuro, and oblique camera angles, turned the teeming metropolis of London into a brooding urban jungle infested with thugs and con men. The acting is first-rate throughout, especially Richard Widmark as the slimy anti-hero, and Francis L. Sullivan as the sleazy owner of a seedy joint (his grotesque physicality reminded me of Orson Welles’ legendary turn in Touch of Evil). The deeply ominous soundtrack, the morally ambiguous tone and the frenetic narrative, too, played vital roles in making this a thrilling masterpiece. The lovely Gene Tierny, of Laura fame, played the moral backbone of the story.








Director: Jules Dassin
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Urban Drama/Gangster Movie
Language: English
Country: UK

6 comments:

andrewsidea said...

Jules Dassin could pull off "nightmarish" noir (as you appropriately identify it) like few others. Thieves' Highway features that incredibly effective sequence of red-eye highway driving that feels as much like a nightmare as anything David Lynch has put on screen. Like the worst nightmares, it's difficult to tell what's real and what isn't.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks for sharing your views. Well, to be honest, this is my first tryst with Jules Dassin. But if this is anything to go by, I can sure appreciate what you meant.

Sam Juliano said...

"Though most feel Carol Reed’s The Third Man was the greatest Brit noir, I feel Jules Dassin’s Night and the City was more “noirish” and definitive of the two, and hence should rank higher in the pantheon of great film noirs."

This is absolutely correct as far as I'm concerned, Shubhajit. I recently saw the film at Manhattan's Film Forum during the month-long Brit Noir Festival in August, and more than any DVD viewing previously it really resonated as the quintessential noir, even if THE THIRD MAN remains in my view the greatest of all British films overall. What you say here is absolutely dead on:

"One of the bleakest movies I’ve watched, Night and the City drew a truly nightmarish picture of crime, corruption, human weakness, urban paranoia and existential angst."

It's on-location shooting in post-war London was most effective as alleyways, corridors, bridges and other natural locations were used in excellent service to the film's themes. Yes, Widmark, Sullivan and Tierney were extraordinary!

Superlative capsule here!

Shubhajit said...

Sam, thanks a ton for your opinion. I really appreciate that you did come back to try and post your comment despite the initial setback. That's one gesture I'll remember.

I felt I was a lone man here where feeling that Night & the City was a better film noir as compared to The Third Man. But now that I know that my view matches with yours - someone whose film reviews & knowhow I admire, I feel I was right where juxtaposing the two movies goes. Especially so because where the Reed classic is a universally acknowledged masterpiece, this Dassin masterwork still elicits ambiguous reactions among film aficionados. And that is certainly doing great injustice to this great work of film noir.

Thanks again and do keep visiting my blog.

John said...

Shubhajit,

The camera work and the lighting are real highlights as you accurately point out. I have not seen this film in a while but have been planning to revisit it soon. London never looked more ominous than in this film. The cast is all excellent, especially Widmark who is one of the best when portraying slime and evil, apparently the opposite of what he was like in real life. I concur that you need to check out Dassin’s “Thieves Highway”, a film he made just prior to “Night and the City.” Not quite in the same class but still a nightmarish ride in the dark. An outstanding review.

Shubhajit said...

John, thanks a lot for your comment and appreciation. One always expects camera work & lighting in a film noir to be dark, disorienting and visually arresting, but the ones here went way beyond my already high expectations (each time you watch a good noir, your expectations rise that much more). And yeah, rarely has a city appeared more ominous in a movie. I'll do try and get my hands on Thieves' Highway.