Night and the City (1950)

Cinematography Max Greene
Directed by Jules Dassin

Night and the City is a 1950 film noir directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney and Googie Withers.  It is based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Kersh. Shot on location in London and at Shepperton Studios, the plot revolves around an ambitious hustler whose plans keep going wrong.


Deserving of MUCH more acknowledgment, one of the best Noir films.

Author: Ham_and_Egger from Indianapolis, Indiana
2 March 2005

For some reason Night and the City doesn’t seem to the credit it deserves; possibly because it was director Jules Dassin’s last American film before being blacklisted as a Communist. I wasn’t born until the Cold War was winding down, but it seems that with movies like Night and the City to his credit, we could have turned a blind eye even if he really was a Commie.

Honestly this film deserves to rank up there with the likes of The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, or Out of the Past. The scenes of our “hero” Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark, at his best) being chased through London’s East End are as starkly beautiful as anything you’ll ever see on film.


For several minutes there isn’t a single shade of gray, everything is literally black or white and the camera itself seems to have joined in hunting Harry. Then there’s the long, semi-grotesque wrestling scene that took me totally by surprise, it’s like something out of Fellini.

Widmark is utterly believable as Fabian, a charming two-bit grifter who works as a “club tout” but hatches one ill-fated get-rich-quick scheme after another. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, there isn’t a cardboard character in the bunch, except maybe Harry’s girl Marry (Gene Tierney) though its really more a flaw in the character than the actress. Mary’s saintliness may be the writers’ only slip-up though, every other character has the sort of depth that makes the film a joy to watch.


They inexorably follow their own motivations, which, of course, rely on those of someone else, who inevitably has a goal of his or her own, which will eventually derail the plan of someone whom someone else is counting on (actually, the film is a little less twisted than this review 😉 Criterion has just (2/05) recently released Night and the City and never has the phrase “filmed in glorious black and white” been more appropriate. Before this film seemed to lurk in the shadows of AMC or TCM, only occasionally showing its face, as if it were one of the genre’s minor works. Now, if you haven’t seen it you have no excuse, and you’re only hurting yourself.

Noir masterpiece

Author: Bucs1960 from West Virginia
24 November 2001

This gritty film, exposing the world of small time crooks in London, is a real masterpiece of film noir. The director, Jules Dassin, has captured this dark, dirty world perfectly and the black and white cinematography is superb. Richard Widmark is as despicable here as he was as Tommy Udo in “Kiss of Death”…it is a coup of casting. Francis Sullivan as Phil is great as the nightclub owner for whom Widmark shills and Googie Withers, one of my favorites of British film, is awesome as the unfaithful wife.


Gene Tierney is wasted as Widmark’s girlfriend…she does not seem to have much to do. Other support players are strong and you get to see Herbert Lom without his toupee! This is one of the best in the film noir genre and the ending pulls no punches. This is not a happy, feel good film. Highly recommended.

Widmark Tops Out

Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
20 February 2005

My favorite Richard Widmark performance on the screen and probably his best work is Night and the City. This was director Jules Dassin’s last film before settling in Europe in the wake of the blacklist and it has a first rate cast tuned to a fine pitch, like an orchestra without a bad note in it.


Harry Fabian is this smalltime American hustler/conman who’s settled in London and always working that middle ground netherworld between the law and outright gangsterism. He really isn’t a very likable man and the trick is to keep the audience care what’s happening to him. This is the test of a great actor and Widmark is fully up to the challenge.

Fabian while working one of his cons overhears a piece of information about the father/son relationship between champion Graeco-Roman wrestler Gregorius the Great and gangster/promoter Cristo who is the London version of Vince McMahon. He cons Gregorius into thinking he wants to promote old style wrestling like Gregorius used to do. That con game sets in motion the events of the film that ultimately end in tragedy.


The cast is uniformly fine, but one performance really stands out, that of Stanislaus Zbyzsko as Gregorius. He was a real professional wrestling champion back in the day when it was real. Zbyzsko invests so much of his own life and reality as Gregorius that he’s really something special. His scenes with Herbert Lom as his son are so good they go far beyond the plane of mere acting. It’s some of the best work Lom has ever done as well.

How there weren’t a few Oscar nominations from this is a mystery for me. For those who like film noir, this should be required viewing. Especially for you Richard Widmark fans.


This Is One Dark & Moody Noir

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
26 October 2006

It took a second look for me to enjoy this movie as it didn’t really appeal much to me on the first viewing. Perhaps a better picture helped. If I had the Criterion DVD, it would be much better I’m sure but, for now, I’ll have to settle for the VHS. This is a very noir-ish with a lot of dark scenes, so a good transfer is a must.

Most of the action takes place at night in London alleyways, nightclubs and gymnasiums. The storyline is a downer, that’s for sure. It is a rough and sometimes depressing story. Richard Widmark, as “Harry Fabian,” has the starring role and plays a real loser, a desperate man who always has a scheme concocted but usually messes up. Some critics think this is Widmark’s best performance ever.


Francis Sullivan is interesting as the nightclub owner. Gene Tierney gets second billing but doesn’t have much of role in here.

Some memorable scenes include a wrestling match with big Mike Mazurki and “Gregorious.” I’m not much into wrestling but this was an amazing match, extremely intense.

This film is a bit different from most American-based film noirs. It’s not a pleasant story, it’s moody, and it has a certain fascination to it.

Always Loser

Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
31 December 2007

In London, the swindler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is an ambitious loser, frequently taking money from his girlfriend Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney).


When he meets the famous Greco-Roman wrestler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko) in the arena of his son and the wrestling lord Kristo (Herbert Lorn), he plans a scheme to become successful. He cheats Greorious, promising clean combats in his own arena, and the old man accepts the partnership. However, without money to promote the fight, he invites his boss and owner of a nightclub Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) to be his partner, but is betrayed and his business fails ending in a tragedy.

“Night and the City” is a great film-noir, with many twists and another excellent performance of Richard Widmark. The story shows the underworld of London, with low-lives, hustlers, beggars, gamblers and other amoral characters through a magnificent black and white cinematography.


The direction of Jules Dassin is sharp and the screenplay perfectly develops the characters and the story in an excellent pace. The Brazilian distributor Oregon Filmes / Fox has one of the best collections of movies labeled “Tesouros da Sétima Arte” (“Treasures of the Seventh Art”). Unfortunately, most of their DVDs shamefully have problems while playing the film, maybe because of the lack of quality of the laboratory they use. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): “Sombras do Mal” (“Shadows of Evil”)

Long Dark Night of the Soul, London, 1950

Author: wglenn from Stony Brook, NY
11 March 2006

The more films I see by Jules Dassin, the more I wonder why he isn’t better known or regarded as a director. It’s been 56 years since he was blacklisted by the McCarthy-ites, but his reputation never seems to have recovered, at least not in the United States. Hopefully, more DVD releases like the Criterion version of Night and the City will bring deserved attention to his excellent body of work.


I want to call Night and the City a classic film noir, which it is, but that seems too limiting. It might be better to say that Dassin uses film noir to dig a little deeper into our human strivings and sufferings. There’s a lot of sweat and desperation in the midst of this entertaining and well-paced film, and not just on the part of Harry Fabian, the small-time hustler who dreams of being great. We encounter a typically smooth and dangerous mobster who also happens to have a difficult relationship with his disappointed father. A wealthy but thugish club owner, who might be a caricature in another film noir, can’t seem to express his powerful and animalistic feelings for his beautiful wife. She seems like a scheming femme fatale but turns out to have an almost quaint dream of her own. In the end, we’re in the muck and mire of human foibles, a kind of low-level Shakespearean tragedy that we all live out to one degree or another. This story just happens to take place in the shadowy underworld of 1950 London.


There’s a poignancy to this film that separates it from others in the noir genre. Part of this lies in the strong writing, part in the excellent acting ensemble. This is one of those rare and remarkable films where the secondary and minor actors seem like they were all giving the performance of their career. Richard Widmark probably could have done with a bit more subtlety as Harry Fabian; he feels a bit histrionic at times, but his manic energy is important to the pace of the film and the feeling of increasing desperation. Gene Tierney and Hugh Marlowe don’t get to do much and seem a bit lost among all the other great roles. In an interview with Dassin included with the DVD, the director says he put Tierney in the film as a favor to producer Daryl Zanuck, adding her role at the last minute, and it feels like that at times. But, hey, it’s Gene Tierney.


Herbert Lom delivers a chilling performance as Kristo the mobster, and Stanislaus Zbyszko is a miracle as his father, the once-famous wrestler Gregorious who can’t stand that his son has helped kill the great tradition of Greco-Roman wrestling with his shoddy wrestling matches. The great Mike Mazurki does well as The Strangler, and the wrestling match he gets into with Gregorious may be the highlight of the film. Zbyszko and Mazurki were both former wrestlers, and the realism of their fight heightens the emotional intensity of the scene. It’s the brutal scruff and claw of existence brought to life on screen for a few powerful moments.

I had never seen Francis Sullivan before, so I was pleasantly surprised by his masterful work as the club owner Nosseross. Googie Withers also does a great job as his wife Helen, managing to bring some good shading to an underwritten role.


And some of the best moments of the film are delivered by minor characters such as Anna, the woman who works down on the docks; Figler, the “King of the Beggars;” and Googin the forger.

After a brief voice-over intro, Dassin starts the action with a bang, as one man chases another through the darkness of late-night London, across what looks like the plaza in front of the British Museum (???). The camera angle on this opening is fantastic, the kind of shot you want to turn into a poster and hang on your wall. And the camera work remains excellent throughout the film. The final long sequence of Harry running all over London in the foggy darkness, with the whole world seemingly after him, is an exciting and powerful climax. Quite a memorable ending to this excellent film.


An artist without an art.

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
10 July 2010

Night and the City is directed by Jules Dassin and is adapted by Jo Eisinger from the novel written by Gerald Kersh. Starring are Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Hebert Lom, Francis L. Sullivan, Mike Mazurki & Stanislaus Zbyszko. The score is composed by Franz Waxman and Max Greene is the cinematographer. It’s shot on location in London, England.

Harry Fabian (Widmark) is a hopeless dreamer, a two-bit hustler who aspires to make it big and never want for money again. Over hearing retired wrestling superstar Gregorius (Zbyszko) bemoaning the fake wrestling bouts put on by his underworld son Kristo (Lom), Fabian hatches a plan to set up his own wrestling empire backed by Gregorius.


Thus he be safe from retribution from Kristo and his heavies. That is as long as Fabian does right by Gregorius and doesn’t abuse his trust. Things get complicated, tho, as Fabian needs money to back the venture, money he hasn’t got. So systematically he drags into the equation his girlfriend Mary Bristol (Tierney), club owner Phil Nosseross (Sullivan) and Sullivan’s wife, Helen (Withers). Pretty soon things start to spiral out of control.

Night and the City has been called many things, from baroque masterpiece to being a turgid pictorial grotesque! Polar opposite reactions that have now, over time, dovetailed into a majority agreement from film noir purists that it is indeed one special piece of film noir movie making. The film opens in quite an unassuming way as the title sequence brings views of leisurely London, then Dassin does a voice-over telling us that “The night is tonight, tomorrow night or any night.


The city is London.” We then cut to a man on the run, pursued by a person unknown. The man being chased is Harry Fabian, sharply attired in suit and hat, he has left pictorial London and is now running thru bomb afflicted London, thru murky alleyways. Until sanctuary comes at his girlfriend’s tidy flat, the contrast between the two worlds of Harry Fabian neatly marrying American film noir with British kitchen sink-ism.

However, that sanctuary is a rare ray of hope in Dassin’s movie, a cunning trick by the makers, for Night and the City is ultimately a dark and brooding picture, one that deals in corruption & paranoia, with a pervading sense of doom hanging heavy like a death warrant issued by some heavy underworld crime lord.


The characters in this part of London are mainly blank personalities, cold and calculating, crooked and immoral. That Fabian is only a lesser light, on the lower rung of this seamy ladder, is irrelevant, because he aspires to become just the same, only richer.

Duplicity and betrayal are things he’s happy to jump in bed with, and we the audience are part of it as we view this story thru Fabian’s hopeless and oblivious eyes.

Yet the movie, in spite of its uncompromising story, is by turns exciting & pacey, even breath taking, driven by one of the finest scores put down in film noir as Waxman prods and probes with pulse beats and deft ear clangers. With Greene’s expressionistic and daring photography blending seamlessly with the mood crafted by director and composer alike. The cast are mostly strong, with Widmark, Zbyszko & Withers actually terrific, the latter involved in a superb wrestling sequence with Mazurki. At times heart pounding, at others wince inducing-if you find yourself holding your breath-then that’s OK, it has that effect on many.


Tierney was cast as a favour to Darryl Zanuck who was worried about Tierney’s mental health at the time. She looks radiant and offers up an interesting counterpoint to all the darkness within the story. Dassin spoke very favourably of her work on the film, saying she was no trouble at all and a consummate professional.

As for Dassin himself? Well he was, thanks to the HUAC outcry, about to be out of work and on the run. He moved to Europe and never worked in America again, he returned from film making exile five years later where he would make the much revered Rififi in France. A truly excellent director, capable of pacing a film to precision and holding an audience in an atmospheric vice like grip. Night and the City is his masterpiece, and it is also one of film noir’s greatest treasures. 10/10



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