Night and the City
Cast & Crew
Francis L. Sullivan
Harry Fabian, a minor league hustler in London's underworld, tries to borrow money from girl friend Mary Bristol for a proposed greyhound racing track but the cash, which Mary borrows from her neighbor, designer Adam Dunn, is actually to pay off a thug who has been chasing Harry and is waiting outside. Harry works as a tout for a dubious nightclub, The Silver Fox, run by Phil and Helen Nosseross, and Mary works there as a singer. Harry sends customers to the club on the pretext that they will have a racy evening but instead they are fleeced. At a wrestling show, Harry hustles a couple of potential suckers but is stopped by one of promoter Kristo's men. Kristo's father, Gregorius, a former champion wrestler who has come from Greece with his protégé, Nikolas, causes a disturbance in the arena as he is disgusted by the phony shows his son is staging. Harry sees an opportunity to move into another racket and promises Gregorius that he will promote classical Greco-Roman wrestling in London. Later, Harry asks Phil for financial backing but he refuses. Others in the underworld do likewise, fearful of reprisals by Kristo. Helen, who is interested in Harry and wants to leave her husband, gives Harry some money on the condition that he will get her a license to reopen a closed nightclub that will become theirs. Kristo's solicitor, Fergus Chilk, warns Phil that his employee should be discouraged from pursuing his plan to promote wrestling. Phil suspects that Harry is fooling around with Helen and decides to "set him up" by becoming his silent partner. As soon as Harry's company books its first promotion, Chilk and Kristo pay him a visit, advising him to leave town. Harry, however, introduces them to his ace-in-the-hole, his partner Gregorius, who has all but disowned his son. Kristo warns his father not to be involved with Harry and tells Harry not to betray his father in any way. Harry then bilks Helen out of more money before he gives her a phony club license. When Kristo tells Phil he knows that he is Harry's backer, Phil promises him that Gregorius will learn that Harry is not an honorable man. Phil's plan involves telling Harry that he is backing out of the deal unless Harry books a more commercial attraction like The Strangler, one of Kristo's regular wrestlers. Harry is forced to agree and talks with The Strangler's manager, Mickey Beer. They goad The Strangler into challenging Nikolas, and Gregorius is tricked into letting Nikolas wrestle The Strangler as the main event on Harry's first card. Harry tells Phil he has secured The Strangler but, as planned, Phil double-crosses him and phones Kristo in the belief that he will arrange appropriate punishment for Harry for having betrayed his father's trust. However, Harry tells Kristo that Gregorius wants the match to take place. Phil tells Harry that no one will give him the money he needs to make the event happen. When Adam tells Mary that he has seen Harry near her flat, she discovers him ransacking her place and "borrowing" money. At a gymnasium, The Strangler and Gregorius get into a fight, and Nikolas suffers a broken wrist trying to stop it. Kristo arrives in time to see his father demolish The Strangler. However, the battle has been too much for the old man, who collapses and dies. Kristo blames Harry for his father's death and spreads the word around the underworld that he will pay £1,000 to the man who gets Harry. In the meantime, Helen tells Phil that she is going to leave him to go into business with Harry, ignoring Phil's words that Harry has no future. On the run, Harry phones Figler, king of the beggars, asking him for somewhere to lay low. Figler tells him to come to his place, then phones Kristo. While Helen is instructing the girls at her new club, a police officer comes to ask why the club is opening as he thought it had been closed down. Helen shows him the new license Harry secured for her but the officer discovers that it is a fake. Helen returns to Phil only to find that he has killed himself. Harry is at Figler's but suspects that he has tipped Kristo off and leaves to hide out on a barge owned by Anna O'Leary, to whom he expresses regret about the way he has treated Mary. Mary finds Harry at the barge and tries to help him escape. He tells her to go to Kristo and collect the reward money on him. After Mary leaves, Harry rushes outside where Kristo and his thugs have gathered and shouts at Mary, falsely accusing her of turning him in and saying that Kristo should pay her. The Strangler catches Harry, kills him and dumps him in the river. Adam arrives with the police and comforts Mary as The Strangler is arrested.
Francis L. Sullivan
C. Denier Warren
Ray St. Bernard
J. Hubert Leslie
Robert E. Dearing
Samuel G. Engel
Cyril J. Mockridge
C. P. Norman
William E. Watts
Darryl F. Zanuck
Night and the City (1950)
Richard Widmark plays Harry Fabian, an American hustler living in London, where he regularly hits up his girlfriend, Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney), for cash to pay off loan sharks and invest in unpromising schemes. He also practices minor-league scams on behalf of a nightclub called the Silver Fox, where Mary is a singer employed by the joint's owners, Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) and his wife, Helen (Googie Withers). A chance encounter links Harry up with an aging Greek man named Gregorius, who was once a champion wrestler in the classic Greco-Roman mode. Gregorius's son, Kristo, is a leading promoter of new-style professional wrestling, which his father hates because it's all show biz and fakery. Talking with Gregorius gives Harry his latest get-rich-quick idea. With the old Greek as his partner, he'll fill a gap in the sporting scene by producing Greco-Roman wrestling matches in London.
Needing funds to get the enterprise going, Harry approaches Phil, who laughs him out of the room. Others also refuse, either because they don't take Harry seriously or because they're afraid of competing with Kristo, who's ruthless and deadly. In a sudden surprise, Helen tricks Phil into promising half of the money Harry needs if Harry can put up a matching amount, and she herself slips Harry the rest. In return for this favor, she wants Harry to wrangle her a license that will let her leave Phil and open a pub. Harry agrees, even though he knows he can't deliver, and then leaps enthusiastically into his new profession of wrestling promoter. But the odds are totally against him. Kristo will kill him if he hurts his old Greek father. Phil suspects that Harry is having an affair with Helen - he is, of course - and secretly plots to destroy him. To accomplish this, Phil hoodwinks Harry into arranging a match between Gregorius's protégé, a Greco-Roman wrestler called Nikolas of Athens, and the Strangler, a well-known attraction on the new-style wrestling circuit. Catastrophe follows.
Film noir always involves deceit, treachery, and betrayal, but Night and the City stands out for the sheer magnitude of those bad behaviors. Everyone has it in for everyone, except innocent Mary and her protective neighbor, Adam Dunn, and those two are minor characters. It's a riveting story, and its ubiquitous hypocrisy and backstabbing make it a grimly appropriate metaphor for what the Hollywood industry was going through when it was made. Dassin didn't go on the blacklist until 1950, but he and Twentieth Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck saw the handwriting on the wall. Zanuck reacted by assigning Dassin to direct Night and the City, which was slated for shooting in London because certain studio funds had to be used in Britain or forfeited. Zanuck also hoped Dassin would duplicate the success of his earlier noir The Naked City, which had scored a smash hit for Universal in 1948.
Night and the City originated as a novel by Gerald Kersh, which producer Charles K. Feldman purchased in 1946, expecting Jacques Tourneur to direct the adaptation. Fox bought the rights from Feldman in 1949 and hired Jo Eisinger to polish the script that he and several others had drafted. Dassin was so anxious about the ticking clock that he didn't take time to read the novel; when he did eventually get around to it, he said later, he found the story quite different from what he expected. Shooting took place on fifty-four outdoor locations and only fourteen studio sets, a strategy that pays off handsomely in local color and atmosphere. The crowning achievement of cinematographer Max Greene is the frantic climax, which required outdoor light that was available for only an hour each morning. Dassin felt the scene's intensity would suffer if he stretched the shooting over several days, so he and Greene arranged to film it in one or two sessions with no fewer than six cameras. The result is a tour de force of high-energy cinema.
When the picture was in the can, Dassin discovered that he was now blacklisted and forbidden to set foot in the studio. This prevented him from supervising the editing (which is terrific anyway) and overseeing the music for the film. Benjamin Frankel composed the original score, but Fox replaced it with music by the great Franz Waxman for the United States release. The picture was also shortened by a few minutes for American audiences.
The casting couldn't be better. This was Widmark's seventh picture and his fourth noir, and he pours himself into the role of hapless Harry with amazing force, gloating like mad in his triumphant moments and exploding with desperation when things don't go his way. In her memoir, Self-Portrait, costar Tierney recalled the most memorable scene in Widmark's first movie, Kiss of Death, a sensational noir directed by Henry Hathaway in 1947. In it, Tierney wrote, Widmark "pushed Mildred Natwick, an invalid in a wheelchair, down a flight of stairs, as he laughed fiendishly. The laugh was not in the script." He brings an equal measure of inspired creepiness to Night and the City. Tierney also does well as Mary, although her role is small. Zanuck pushed her into the production, according to Dassin, because of fear that a romantic breakup had made her depressed and suicidal. She looks quite chipper on the screen, and you hardly notice that she isn't wearing makeup, following a policy she'd adopted five years earlier when she decided she looked better without it.
When he was casting the role of Gregorius, the aging Greek wrestler, Dassin wanted someone who resembled an old-time champion named Stanislaus Zbyszko, whose picture Dassin remembered seeing as a boy. He was delighted to learn that Zbyszko was alive and well and living in New Jersey, where Fox recruited him to appear in the movie. Scowling, portly Francis L. Sullivan is perfect as Phil, and Googie Withers is just right as his longsuffering wife. As the sinister, smoldering Kristo, character actor Herbert Lom turns in the film's most subtly frightening performance, and former wrestler Mike Mazurki plays the Strangler as a walking volcano just itching to erupt. Hugh Marlowe is his usual mild self as Mary's good-natured neighbor.
A 1992 remake of Night and the City was directed by Irwin Winkler, a prolific Hollywood producer with a particular interest in the blacklist years. The solid cast includes Robert De Niro as Harry and Jessica Lange as Helen, expertly supported by Cliff Gorman and Alan King as the Grossman brothers, who serve the same function here as the father and son (Gregorius and Kristo) in the original picture. Richard Price wrote the screenplay, which replaces wrestling with boxing and gives Harry a tacked-on happy ending. It's a pretty good picture, but the 1950 original pins it to the floorboards. Dassin's career continued in Europe, where he made such important pictures as the comic Never on Sunday (1960) and the crime dramas Rififi (1955) and Topkapi (1964), but he never made a finer film than Night and the City.
Director: Jules Dassin
Producer: Samuel G. Engel
Screenplay: Jo Eisinger; based on the novel by Gerald Kersh
Cinematographer: Max Greene
Film Editing: Nick De Maggio, Sidney Stone
Art Direction: C.P. Norman
Music: Franz Waxman
With: Richard Widmark (Harry Fabian), Gene Tierney (Mary Bristol), Googie Withers (Helen Nosseross), Hugh Marlowe (Adam Dunn), Francis L. Sullivan (Philip Nosseross), Herbert Lom (Kristo), Stanislaus Zbyszko (Gregorius), Mike Mazurki (the Strangler), Charles Farrell (Mickey Beer), Ada Reeve (Molly the Flower Lady), Ken. Richmond (Nikolas of Athens)
by David Sterritt
Night and the City (1950)
Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th
Sunday, April 20th
8:00 PM Naked City
9:45 PM Topkapi
TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008)
Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th.
After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality."
DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962.
WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994.
1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater)
1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart"
1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"
Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th
Night and the City on DVD
Much critical ink has covered the parallels between Harry's plight and the similar trials of Dassin, who was hiding out working for Fox's London branch as the watchful eyes of HUAC closed in. That theory is largely supported by Criterion's elaborate and wholly justified special edition, though the film also functions as much more than that. Widmark is exceptional in what amounts to an extended chase film (alternating between intellectual and physical pursuit), with the Sword of Damocles hovering overhead in classic noir style. However, the film breaks with traditional noir on several levels as the protagonist digs his own grave in a world even more paranoid and exaggerated than what one expected from 1940s thrillers; made in 1950, Night and the City could be considered the first "second wave" noir (followed by the likes of Fritz Lang's The Big Heat) in which definitions of heroism became completely useless and sadism was the order of the day. This trend arguably reached its apex even later with The Girl Hunters and Darker than Amber, but Dassin's film remains the cream of the crop. His portrayal of a dark, gangster-controlled London operating as an inescapable caste system has been copied many times since, but his filmmaking finesse keeps the environment fresh and invigorating; often characters are framed through windows or from forced perspectives that give the entire film a sense of imbalance only righted when the whole shebang comes crashing down at the end.
In one particularly fascinating extra on the DVD, Night and the City is revealed to exist in two completely different versions: Dassin's authorized American cut with music by Franz Waxman (presented as the main feature) and an alternate, longer British version with inferior music by Benjamin Frankel. Most of the extra British footage focuses on Tierney and potential love interest Hugh Marlowe, with a few more sympathetic flourishes offered to Widmark. The heightened emphasis on Tierney is especially strange here as this one-time noir muse from Laura and Leave Her to Heaven seems even more out of joint with the rest of the proceedings; narrator Christopher Husted does a solid job of guiding the 23-minute featurette through the alternate footage without making any value judgments, but it's quite clear which version ultimately comes out on top. That said, the British version does include a few tantalizing visual touches and easily counts as essential viewing for fans of the film.
Along with the feature itself, reviewer and film scholar Glenn Erickson presents a very thorough and lively audio commentary in which he dissects the film from virtually every angle imaginable. Rarely scene specific, the discussion instead focuses on the film's remarkable back story and placement in the noir pantheon. Dassin turns up for two featurettes, a new 17-minute interview in which he talks about his relationship with Fox's Darryl Zanuck and the actors on the film (as well as confessing he never read the source novel before writing the script) and a 1972 French TV interview from Ciné-Parade in which he discusses the star system, the subordinate role of directors in Golden Age Hollywood, and the painful betrayal by Elia Kazan. Also included are the theatrical trailer and an 8-page insert including an essay by film professor Paul Arthur.
For more information about Night and the City, visit Criterion Collection. To order Night and the City, go to TCM Shopping.
by Nathaniel Thompson
Night and the City on DVD
Night and the City
"You're a dead man, Harry Fabian, a dead man." Small-time hustler Richard Widmark ("possibly his best role" - Pauline Kael) steers suckers to nightclub fatcat Francis L. Sullivan's clip joint, but dreams of moving up - to be a big shot wrestling promoter - and so begins his headlong nocturnal run through a sleazy, decidedly non-touristy London, ignoring the advice of nice girlfriend Gene Tierney (cameoing abroad to get over a painful romance), slipping a fake nightclub license to Sullivan's cheating wife Googie Withers, trying to outmaneuver domineering Greek promoter Herbert Lom (years before his worldwide fame as Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the "Pink Panther" comedies), until a sweatily brutal grudge match ("one of the most heart-pounding ever filmed" - The Movie Guide) between Lom's idealistic father "Gregorius" (one-time world Greco/Roman wrestling champ Stanislaus Zbyszko) and animalistic Mike Mazurski seals his fate.
Shuffled off to London by mogul Darryl Zanuck to avoid imminent blacklisting, director Dassin (The Naked City, Rififi, Topkapi, Never On Sunday) responded with an expressionist tour de force in a grinding tale of fate in which a moment of decency proves the final act. Similar in style, theme and structure to Sweet Smell of Success (made eight years later by a British director working in New York), Night and the City features quintessential b&w noir cinematography by Max "Mutzy" Greene and a pounding Franz Waxman score.
For more information about Night and the City, go to the Film Forum web site.
Night and the City
According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Gerald Kersh sold the motion picture rights to his novel to Chas. K. Feldman Group Productions, Inc. in May 1946 for $45,000. Jacques Tourneur was engaged by Feldman to direct the film but production was canceled due to "casting difficulties." Between 1946 and 1949, Feldman assigned the following screenwriters to the project: Edward Kaufman, William Kozlenko, Rowland Brown, Agnes Pottage, Jo Eisinger and Peter Berneis. Only Eisinger received screen credit; the others' contribution, if any, to the final screenplay has not been determined. In March 1949, Twentieth Century-Fox bought the property from Feldman for $175,000 and hired Eisinger to do further work on it.
In an attempt to capitalize on the success of Universal's The Naked City, the studio assigned that film's director, Jules Dassin, to Night and the City which was entirely filmed in London, using "frozen" currency owed to the company. A studio publicity release states that fifty-four different London locations were utilized, while only fourteen interior sets were used. An article in the New York Times stated that ten of the twelve weeks of production were to be spent shooting on location. For the version released in America, the studio decided to replace the music score written by Benjamin Frankel (Muir Mathieson, musical director) with one written by Franz Waxman. The film was also shortened by approximately six minutes for its American release. It is likely that sequences involving singer Adelaide Hall, a calypso band and actors Eliot Makeham, Betty Shale and Betty Marsden were dropped for the American release.
Some modern sources list Kay Kendall as a bit player but she was not visible in the print viewed. The film's American-release cutting continuity contains one brief scene which was not in the print viewed: After "Helen" discovers that "Phil" is dead, she learns that he has willed everything to "Molly," an old flower seller. Contemporary reviewers commented very favorably on the effectiveness of former wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko in the role of "Gregorius." According to studio documents, one of Zbyszko's real-life opponents, a wrestler named Hackenschmidt, objected to being identified in the film as losing to Zbyszko so his name was changed to "Heiderschmidt." Dale Martin Promotions of London supplied additional wrestlers and a referee. A new film version of Gerald Kersh's novel, starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange and directed by Irwin Winkler, was released in 1992. That film, which was also titled Night and the City, changed the setting from London's wrestling arenas to New York's boxing clubs.