Jules Dassin’s old classic ‘Night and the City’ rereleased

Now playing at local cinemas is «Night and the City,» made by the late director Jules Dassin after he was blacklisted by Hollywood for communist activity during the McCarthy era. The film, set in London’s seedy underworld, tells of a small-time crook, hustler and gambler, named Harry Fabian, whose ambitions just seem to go awry. In this masterpiece of a film, released in 1950, Dassin follows the main character’s desperate plight, be it during twilight, late-night wanderings, or the hell of daytime. The melodrama is perfectly blended with the project’s film-noir aspect. Richard Widmark, in the lead role, is pivotal in achieving this very fine balance. The film also stars Gene Tierney, Googie Withers and Herbert Lom. The blond, high-energy Fabian, who is usually dressed in light-colored suits, alternates from looking like the glow of fireworks in the sky to an easy-to-pinpoint moving target at night. He talks constantly and never stops moving. Early on, Fabian appears like a doped-up racehorse on a steeplechase to glory. By the story’s end, he seems like a trapped wild animal with no retreat amid the urban jungle. The story begins with a scene shot by the River Thames that functions as a prelude. Fabian is seen running in an effort to escape from a mob on his tail. Then Dassin shows us a grievous and insolent guy who steals small change from his girlfriend’s purse while feeling justified at the same time. Fabian, a hustler working to bring in customers to a club, is ready to grab any opportunity that could make him great. He ignores his girlfriend’s words of advice, as she tries to bring him back down to earth. Instead, Fabian begins imagining himself as the biggest organizer of wrestling events in London. As Fabian sees it, the lucky charm that will bring about a change in his fortune is an old Greco-Roman wrestling great, a Greek called Grigoris. Grigoris feels ashamed of his son Christos, the boss of the city’s professional boxing circuit. Fabian, an expert at bluffing, manages to gain the honorable Grigoris’s trust and then uses him like a Trojan horse with the hope of taking over the underworld and dethroning Christos from his position of power. Fabian convinces the old man, a coach and agent of a young wrestler, to co-organize Greco-Roman bouts as a cleaner spectacle for people interested in pure wrestling. Fabian bluffs by mentioning the wife of the owner of the club where he hustles as the person who is to finance his plan. Then, bluffing again, Fabian also brings Christos’s best bet into the rigged game, a famous professional wrestler known as the Strangler. Fabian appears to hold all the cards in the the game he has set up, but he fails to take into account the sudden arrival of windy weather. If filmmaking is a game of light, shadows, and especially time, Dassin is an excellent player. In «Night and the City,» the director’s story is so robust and the film’s pace so concentrated that it all gives the impression that the main character’s dream lasts just one night. Also, at the heart of this pessimistic film about the demise of Harry Fabian – who is betrayed and hunted down by friends – Dassin offers a bitter and harsh commentary about the betrayal of colleagues and friends during McCarthyism.