For Reel

Night and the City (1950)
October 10, 2015, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jules Dassin
4.5 Stars
Night and the CityAlthough Jules Dassin wouldn’t go on the Hollywood blacklist until 1950, he and Twentieth Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck knew it to be an inevitability before Night and the City had been completed. The resulting film is suitably defined by backstabbing, betrayals, and the destructive effects of money and the pursuit of bettering one’s social standing. This hellish, expressionistic vision of London is far removed from Dassin’s own urban imaginings in The Naked City and Thieves’ Highway, which (especially in the former) treated cities as organized and geometric, undoubtedly defined by crime but without the desperation and nightmarish quality of this later film. As scam artist Harry Fabian, Richard Widmark is brilliantly cast. He giggles, sweats profusely, and tightens his lips to bear his bulging white teeth–the image of a desperate would-be promoter, but also a man slowly succumbing to a fatal bear hug. Cinematographer Max Greene is just as adept at conveying the paranoiac atmosphere in close-ups as he is in scenes that convey the shadowed alleys and hellish attractions of London after dark. Widmark often faces the camera in tight close-ups–the perfect scale to acknowledge every bead of sweat on his exhausted head–and his image is frequently surrounded with a rogues’ gallery of watchful eyes in the background. These shots are rendered in shallow focus, creating a sense of claustrophobia by making it seem as though the characters are stacked right on top of each other.

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