Night and the City

(UK/USA 1950)

“Harry is an artist without an art.”

—Adam Dunne

Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is a fine example of classic film noir. Filmed in smoky black and white mostly at nighttime on location in London, Dassin takes us slumming through the seedy underworld of nightlife, wrestling, and organized crime.

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a hard-bitten, ambitious, streetwise American con artist living in London. Always on the lookout for a quick buck, he can’t seem to catch a break. Ever. Literally running for his life in the opening scene, his latest career endeavor has failed, and his girl, Mary (Gene Tierney), is losing faith in him—stealing from her will do that.

Things brighten one night after a failed hustle at a wrestling match: Harry crosses paths with famous retired Greek wrestler Gregorius the Great (real life professional wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko) and his prodigy, Nikolas of Athens (Ken Richmond), who both walk out of the arena in a huff. Gregorius is furious with his son, Kristo (Herbert Lom), who organized the fight, a low-end sort of WWE-like affair that he finds tacky.

Harry schmoozes Gregorius and learns that Kristo is a mobster who controls wrestling in all of London. He devises a plan to create a promotion startup, aligning himself with Gregorius to get around Kristo. He secures funding by double dealing with Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan), the owner of the Silver Fox Club where Mary works, and Phil’s wife, Helen (Googie Withers). She has plans of her own she doesn’t want Phil to know about.

The whole thing looks like it’s actually going to work despite Kristo’s threats, a plot to murder Harry, and Phil pulling his backing from the project. Harry gets so far as setting up a real fight between Nikolas and the Strangler (Mike Mazurki, also a real life professional wrestler). A miscalculation unravels everything—not just for him but everyone involved.

Jo Eisinger’s screenplay, based on Gerald Kersh’s novel Night and the City with contributions from Austin Dempster and William E. Watts, involves morally bankrupt lowlife characters who lack any redeeming qualities. All of them are scamming for one thing or another, and none of them—except maybe Mary—evokes any sympathy. This plays out nicely with the motifs of money, masculinity, and blind ambition that give this story its dark and bitter hue. It’s suspenseful. Ultimately, evil prevails in this dirty little story, which had to be revolutionary if jarring when this came out.

The backstory here is as interesting as the plot: during the production of Night and the City, Dassin was blacklisted for being a Communist. Pushed into exile, he infuses a strong sense of betrayal and fear into this film (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Dassin).

Night and the City is desperate, chilly, and magnificently bleak—and it looks it thanks to Mutz Greenbaum’s shadowy and dramatic cinematography. Of the nitrate prints that screened this year, this was a standout. According to the festival program, this pre-release print is ten minutes longer than the UK version and 15 minutes longer than the US version.

With Hugh Marlowe, Ada Reeve, Charles Farrell, Edward Chapman, Betty Shale

Production: 20th Century Fox

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Criterion

111 minutes (pre-release print)
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B

Nitrate Picture Show

https://www.criterion.com/films/933-night-and-the-city

All About Eve

(USA 1950)

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

—Margo Channing

That iconic line succinctly captures the essence of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, a sharp commentary on the treacherous relationship between female ambition and the American obsession with youth that still rings—and stings—true nearly 70 years later.

Based on Mary Orr’s short story The Wisdom of Eve, Bette Davis is Broadway legend Margo Channing, who’s turning 40 and sees doors closing in her professional and personal life. One rainy night, Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), Margo’s bestie, happens upon a young starstruck fan waiting backstage to meet Margo after a performance of her latest play, the aptly titled Aged in Wood. The fan, of course, is wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a mousy but well-spoken girl in an oversized trenchcoat who says she followed Margo from San Francisco to New York City and has seen every performance of the play—from the back of the house.

Karen, whose husband is none other than playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), Margo’s frequent collaborator and author of Aged in Wood, brings Eve into Margo’s dressing room to meet her. Lloyd is there, along with Margo’s fiancé, director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), and her crusty sharp-tongued maid, Birdie (Thelma Ritter). Eve wins over everyone in the room with her poignant backstory about a poor midwestern upbringing on a farm, a husband killed in the War, and a humble stiff upper lip. Everyone, that is, except Birdie—she smells a rat.

Margo takes Eve under her wing as her personal assistant. Eve quickly proves to be an ace at organizing Margo’s affairs—and sneaking herself squarely into the middle of them. She aligns with caustic theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), who like Birdie doesn’t buy what Eve puts out there but unlike Birdie sees a mutual opportunity. Things sour all around when Margo learns that her producer, Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), designates Eve as her understudy without consulting her first.

Often compared to Sunset Boulevard for a variety of reasons, All About Eve is not as dark or campy but is way bitchier. From a technical standpoint, the script is tighter, the production more sophisticated, and the story a lot wittier. All things considered, it’s way more fun and has held up quite well—sure, the voiceovers are overdramatic, but these are theater people so it fits. I found it particularly interesting to see this film again right around the beginning of the FX series Feud, which not only is half about Davis but elaborates on the same issues that All About Eve raises. It underscores much of what Davis said about the industry in interviews late in her life.

None of the men here have any reason to worry about their age; for all of them, their success has nothing to do with how old they are or even how they look (their thing is power, but that’s another discussion). The women, on the other hand, constantly struggle to secure and then maintain their positions—and they’re ruthless about it. Eve earns the acting award she gets at the end (which is really the beginning): she fools everyone to manipulate them into giving her what she wants. It’s clear that sooner than later, she’ll be right where Margo is, for better but more likely for worse.

In one of her earlier roles, Marilyn Monroe makes an amusingly memorable appearance as dippy starlet Miss Casswell, who’s trying to catch a break. She’s got the best line of all: “I don’t want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.” Amen!

In 1990, the United States Library of Congress deemed All About Eve “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Barbara Bates, Craig Hill, Helen Mowery, Steven Geray

Production: 20th Century Fox

Distribution: 20th Century Fox

138 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) A

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