By: Denis Blot
Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is a haunting portrait of characters living in the underbelly of dark and criminal London. Like the typical film noir, these characters’ actions and personas fall into a gray area between good and evil, much like the shadows that comprise their environment. The characters are connected to one another by greed, desire, and jealousy, manipulating one another in attempts to achieve their goals.
Dassin’s ability as a director to get performances out of his actors that can evoke an audiences’ sympathy for the often vile characters they play is astonishing. One understands Harry Fabian’s relentless ambitions even while he steals (to finance his schemes) from his girlfriend Mary (Gene Tierney), just as equally accepting Mary’s desire for Harry to get a real job and settle down even though she herself flirts with men in order to obtain money. One easily gets caught up in the film, hoping for Harry’s success and a happy ending for him and Mary, even though we know all to well from the outset that Harry is doomed to failure.
The problems and desires portrayed in the film are ones that one can easily associate with because they are all too human, though not often taken to the exaggerated lengths as portrayed in the film. However, it is these extreme lengths that the characters go to and the drastic consequences that follow that keeps one engrossed in the film. There is also a guilty pleasure in knowing who is backstabbing who and how, while one watches the unknowing characters try to achieve their goals, which keeps one attached to the fate of characters we would normally disassociate ourselves from.
The newly restored film beautifully presents how much tension, fear, and death can be conveyed by simply the play of light and shadows. The web like crisscrossing shadows that fill Harry’s boss’ office when he confronts him and learns that his boss has stabbed him in the back and the bits of light that cross Harry’s face as he hides from the mafia hit men in darkness, are indicative of the precarious situations Harry finds himself trapped in.
To compare how much better this restored version looks in comparison to what it might have looked like, one need only watch the DVD special feature: A Comparison Of The Two Scores Recorded For The British And American Releases Of The Film. In discussing how two different soundtracks were created for the two different versions of the film, one sees clips from the non-restored British version in comparison to the restored American version, and the appearance is startling. Also included in this discussion are scenes that appear in the British version that were deleted or shortened in the American version and different endings.
The Special features also include two interesting interviews with Jules Dassin; one is particularly interesting as he comments on his black listing and Elia Kazan. The audio commentary provided by film scholar Glenn Erikson is littered with tidbits of information related to Dassin, the actors in the film, and the history of the film itself.
If you are a fan of the film noir genre, this is a must own DVD, it’s the perfect film to watch curled up on the couch on a cold, wet, and gloomy day. Its certainly worth repeated viewing, if only to watch once for the cinematography and another for the acting, likewise the special features are definitely interesting enough to sit through.