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Night and the City: The Criterion Collection

Cinematic fatalism is often romantic. When a film wants to show that a character is doomed, usually this damnation involves mistakes borne out of love or lust — especially in the noir genre, where men are often doomed for their affections over a femme fatale. It's such that makes Jules Dassin's film noir from 1950 Night and the City an anomaly — its bleakness is entirely unromantic and offers little respite. And in this case, it's hard not to draw autobiographical parallels to its director; he was already having problems with the communist blacklisting, and this was his last American-produced film (though shot in London). Two years after the picture came out, director Edward Dmytryk named Dassin as a communist, and he was forced to work in Europe — though fortunately he found great success there with such films as Rififi (1955) and Never on Sunday (1960). Set in London, Richard Widmark stars in Night and the City as Harry Fabian, a two-bit hustler looking for his next big score. Even though he's got a loving girlfriend in Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney), Fabian's appetites keep him from her. Harry finds his latest scheme when he gets on friendly terms with old wrestler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko), and uses Gregorius to enter into the world of wrestling promotion — an industry run by Gregorius's son Kristo (Herbert Lom). To get the money he needs, he makes an arrangement with Helen Nosseross (Googie Withers) — a pact that involves helping run her club (and possibly being her kept man). To complicate matters further Harry also has to borrow money from Helen's husband Phil (Francis L. Sullivan), who knows his wife doesn't love him and keeps feeding Harry money because he knows it will put him in the crosshairs of Kristo. But though Harry looks as though he might be able to get ahead, eventually his plans crumble and he's forced on the run when a wrestling match proves tragic.

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From the get-go, Night and the City is a different sort of noir, something heightened by its London setting. Though Richard Widmark had played greaseballs and con artists before (and brilliantly in films like 1953's Pickup on South Street), his Fabian is the perfect representation of the dark underbelly of the American dreamer as crackpot. There's nothing lovable about his dreams; he's an addict for importance, and doesn't have the patience to see things through — when he sets up the wrestling gym, the first things he buys is a plaque with his name on it citing him as the manager. It's virtually impossible to not see Widmark's character as a critique of a certain way of American life. Widmark was at his most brilliant playing flawed and callous men, and that's why when the film takes its turn toward the bleak — as Fabian's fate is all but shored up — one feels sorry for him as he becomes the person to blame though not the person responsible. Kristo and Phil want him taken care of because he's in the way of their well-laid plans (and it's hard not to see some parallels to Dassin's position in America), which have no room for youngsters who buck their positions. The second half of the Night and the City transforms itself into a brutal, paranoid hunt as Fabian looks for anyone who might hole him up to avoid Kristo's death sentence (it's here where it resembles Carol Reed's Odd Man Out). And as the conclusion wraps its hands around Fabian's fate, the picture transcends the noir genre and transforms into a profound tragedy writ large against a desolate backdrop. Dassin's noir exercises (specifically Brute Force) had dark and violent sides, but rarely has a film been so compellingly bleak. The Criterion Collection presents Night and the City in its original aspect ratio (1.33:1) and DD 1.0 audio. The supplements are kicked off by a commentary track by Glenn Erikson (better known to Internet readers as DVD Savant). Also included is a recent Jules Dassin interview (18 min.), and the Christopher Husted-narrated featurette "2 Versions, 2 Scores" (24 min.) about the differences between the Franz Waxman's American score and Benjamin Frankel's British score for the picture. This section also includes footage from the British release not included in the American version. A 1970 "Cine-Parade Interview" (25 min.) offers a black-and-white French interview (with English subtitles) with Dassin wherein he discusses (among other things) Elia Kazan and the blacklist. Also included is the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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