Wednesday, June 3, 2020

London’s post World War II underbelly is explored in “Night and the City”

Night and the City (1950) is a film noir directed by Jules Dassin, produced by Samuel G. Engel, and starring Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, and Googie Withers. The film was shot on location in London and released by 20th Century-Fox.

Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney

The plot centers around Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), an American con man working the angles in London. He is always coming up with a new scheme to make himself rich. These mad pursuits have put a strain on his relationship with Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney). Mary works as a singer at a nightclub owned by Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) and his wife Helen (Googie Withers).

Harry thinks he’s found the thing that’s going to change his luck. He’s working on bringing back the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling with the help of the legendary Gregorius. This flies in the face of Gregorius’s son Kristo who controls all the wrestling (not the Greco-Roman kind) in London. To get the funding for this venture, Harry joins forces with Helen, Phil’s estranged wife who has plans of opening a club of her own. Harry manages to get money from Helen to pursue his wrestling scheme if he helps her get a liquor license for her new club. When Harry changes his wrestling plans and he needs more funds, he steals from Mary, causing more strife in their relationship.

The wrestling scheme goes south in a most tragic way and there’s a price on Harry’s head. Will he be able to escape from trouble like he’s done a million times before or will this be the final reckoning for Harry Fabian?
Widmark, Tierney, and Hugh Marlowe on location in London

Not appreciated on its initial release, Night and the City is considered a high point in the film noir movement.

Jules Dassin (1911 – 2008) was an American film director. He got work as an assistant director at RKO and then moved to M-G-M where he directed short subjects. Dassin directed the film noir classics Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), and Thieves’ Highway (1949). He was blacklisted because of his once being a member of the Communist Party so he left the United States for Europe where remained for the rest of his life. He was married to Greek film actress Melina Mercouri.

Samuel G. Engel (1904 – 1984) was a screenwriter and producer who had a long association with 20th Century-Fox. He wrote and produced My Darling Clementine (1946), Sitting Pretty (1948), The Frogmen (1951), and Daddy Long Legs (1955).

Richard Widmark (1914- 2008) had a sensational movie debut playing the crazy villain Tommy Udo in director Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947). His performance won him a Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actor. He was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Udo. Widmark was under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox where he played mostly villains. Later in his career, he started playing more heroic roles in films like Slattery’s Hurricane and Down to the Sea in Ships (both 1949).

Gene Tierney (1920 – 1991) was an American actress. Tierney got her start on the stage where she played the ingenue lead in The Male Animal. She was spotted by 20th Century-Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and he offered her a movie contract. Zanuck said that Tierney was the most beautiful woman in the movies. Tierney proved that she could carry a film not completely based on her beauty in films like Laura (1944) and Leave Her To Heaven (1945) for which she was nominated for her first and only Best Actress Academy Award. In the late 1940s, she struggled with mental illness which negatively affected her career.

Googie Withers (1917 – 2011) was an English actress who appeared on the stage and in film. She starred in many popular films in the UK and was once voted the 8th most popular British star. She married actor John McCallum in 1948. Together they appeared in British films and stage plays. She moved to Australia, where McCallum was born, in 1959 and continued acting there and in the UK. She remained active in the theatre and film until 2002.

Other cast members you may recognize are Hugh Marlowe (1911 – 1982) who is probably most famous for portraying playwright Lloyd Richards in All About Eve (1950). Other famous roles include The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). Mike Mazurki (1907 – 1990) was a former wrestler, like The Strangler in Night in the City, who became a character actor, often playing strong guys who weren’t too bright. If you watched Nightmare Alley (1947), you saw him play the strong man. He has supporting roles in Murder, My Sweet (1944), and Some Like It Hot (1959).

Below is the YouTube link to the movie. Please be sure to use this link; there are many versions of this film on YouTube that are of inferior quality.

Stephen Reginald is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Discussion of "Night and the City"
Time: Jun 9, 2020, 06:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 724 0074 1254
Password: 9MXHQv

Questions for discussion:
1. How was the city of London portrayed in the film? Did it seem like another character in the movie or was the setting inconsequential?
2. Richard Widmark had played quite a few bad guys by 1949 (the year the film was in production). Was this characterization different from the other bad guys he played? Was his character totally bad or irredeemable?
3. Gene Tierney’s role was rather small, consider her star stature. Do you think she was effective as Mary? What did you think of her scenes with Hugh Marlowe?
4. Did anything about the film surprise you? Do you think the director had a message or theme that he was trying to convey?
5. What about the ending? Inevitable? A surprise?


  1. Widmark was pretty amazing. His range of emotions is something to watch. I commented on this film myself last April. It's a depressing movie and Widmark's character is (once again) not very likable. I thought Tierney was lackluster, one-dimensional. I mentioned Marlowe's inept cooking scene with her. Argh!


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