DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Night And The City - The Criterion Collection (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Jan 29, 2005.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Night And The City
    The Criterion Collection

    Studio: Criterion Collection
    Year: 1950
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 95 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $39.95
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase

    The Feature:
    February 1st is a good day to be a fan of film noir, in fact it would appear 2005 will be a good year if the first couple of months are any indication. Criterion is set to release three dark titles including the Italian film La Commare Secca (1962) directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (Conformista, Il - 1970) as well as two 20th Century Fox films from the French director, Jules Dassin (Rififi (1955), Brute Force (1947), The Naked City - 1948); Thieves’ Highway (1949) and the featured film, Night And The City (1950) starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney.

    Harry Fabian (played by Richard Widmark) is on the run. In fact he’s been on the run for his entire life avoiding those he owes, city officials, people he has scammed and even his family. Harry is a two-bit hustler who possesses a great amount of charm and sophistication, always looking to plot his next scheme. He hustles everyone from vulnerable tourists to high ranking underworld gangsters. He also spends much of his time trying to convince others as well as himself that he is a somebody and that someday “he’ll show them”. Stricken with illusions of grandeur, he is aptly described as an “artist without an art”.

    Harry’s latest plan is to go into the wrestling promotion game. While attending a wrestling match in a London arena, he charms and befriends “Gregorius the Great” (played by Stanislaus Zbyszko), a revered Greco Roman style wrestler who takes a liking to the young and polished hustler, but he is unaware of the con. The only problem is Harry needs money to get his business off the ground. He turns to his girlfriend Mary (played by Gene Tierney) for help, but she’s had enough of Harry’s get rich schemes. He then turns to an old flame Helen (played by Googie Withers), and with an ulterior motive in mind, she concocts a plan which allows Harry to raise the funds necessary. However, she does so at a cost of betraying her wealthy and powerful husband Phil (played by Francis L. Sullivan), which inevitably sets in motion, a series of events as he tries to crush Harry.

    Harry’s new operation has ruffled the feathers of more than a few London syndicate members, but none more dangerous than Gregorius’ own son, Kristo (played by Herbert Lom). Kristo knows what Harry is up to and warns him not to take advantage of his father or to lure him into circus-like wrestling. He tries to muscle in on Harry, but thanks to the help of his muscular friends, he is able to fend them off.

    Harry smells the match of his life and cons the menacing “Strangler” (played by Mike Mazurki) into wrestling Gregorius. Knowing “Gregorius the Great” will decline, Harry hatches and elaborate plan which lures “The Strangler” back to the club in a manner he’s confident that Gregorius will agree to. Unfortunately for Harry, his plan backfires, sending him on the run of his life.


    While I appreciated the gritty feel of Night And The City, I felt it wasn’t quite as engaging as other prototypical noirs from the same period. While the pacing of the movie was fine, the film seemed to lack the same sense of urgency that many noirs typically exhibit. There’s no denying that Harry is in deep, but for some strange reason, that sense of danger isn’t as imminent. Perhaps it’s due to the lackadaisical attitude that Harry has on life and his friends – or, perhaps, the dangers associated with the “promoting racket” just aren’t quite as convincing. Richard Widmark (perhaps the last great remaining noir star still with us), turns in a terrific performance as the cheeky and overconfident Harry Fabian, as do the eclectic group of co-stars including Tierney (who is underused, at least in the American version), Sullivan and Withers.

    The movie exhibits many elements used to identify the noir movement such as including a number of deep-focus camera close-ups which add to the claustrophobic feel as well as a number of particularly skewed vertical camera angles with an emphasis on long staircases. Much of the film is dimly lit adding to the sense of darkness and there’s no shortage of rain-slicked cobblestone streets, not to mention an ending that’s as annihilistic as you’ll ever see in any film noir.


    The Feature: 4/5

    This is another solid effort by the folks at Criterion, not perfect by any means but a terrific effort, nonetheless.

    Presented in its OAR of 1.33:1, this transfer shows off some excellent black levels - deep and lush, while whites were usually stark and crisp. The level of grayscale was vast. While shadow detail was nice, contrast seemed to be somewhat of a mixed bag. Many of the indoor shots are dark (darkly shot), however the few outdoor scenes are a tad on the bright side, almost contrasty looking.

    Image detail was very nice. Not what I’d describe as razor sharp but generally is quite pleasing. There was a fair amount of moderate film grain present and the level of depth and dimension was certainly satisfactory. The film has a rather coarse look to it.

    The print appeared to be basically clean and free of any marks or blemishes and the overall image was rock solid and free of any shimmer or jitter. The authoring appears to have been handled appropriately as the image is free of any sort of artifacts nor were there any signs of edge enhancement present.

    Overall, this is a very pleasing image. There are a few scenes and sequences which appear to be spottier than others, but overall fans of Harry Fabian should be pleased.

    Video: 4/5

    Not much to say in the audio department. The track is DD Mono encoded and for the most part is more than adequate.

    The track has only the slightest amount of hiss (and I was looking for it) and is free of any popping of crackling.

    The overall fidelity of the track is quite natural. Dialogue was always intelligible and bold, never becoming strained or edgy. The overall dynamics of the track are rather limited but are on par with what we would expect from a 55 year old film.

    Very little to complain about as this track accomplishes what it needs to do quite effectively.

    Audio: 4/5

    Special Features:
    [*] Commentary by Glenn Erickson. One of my favorite DVD reviewers and noir writer, DVD Savant provides the audio commentary for this film and as usual, he unleashes a heap of information relating to the film and its participants. He starts the session by setting up Harry’s character - an important component considering how the film centers around Harry’s unique personality. He discusses the U.K. version and how it differs from the U.S. version including the score for the film. Also discussed are the variations of the film versus Gerald Kersh’s novel. Also discussed was Dassin’s departure from America due to his blacklisting and his HUAC ordeal. It’s abundantly clear that Glenn has done his homework and is a veritable authority on the film, as the amount of information is almost overwhelming with nary a dead spot to be found. A very highly recommended listen for fans of noir. Outstanding.
    [*] Jules Dassin Interview is a terrific interview with the very candid director who starts off by offering a confession, of sorts. He discusses his blacklisting and conversations that he had with Darryl Zanuck. He goes on to discuss the casting of the film and reflects upon his experiences having worked with them including a few interesting comments about Gene Tierney. He goes into great detail about the filming of the final scene. Very informative. Duration 17:50 minutes.
    [*] Up next is a super feature entitled, 2 Versions - 2 Scores. The film was made in England while Dassin was blacklisted and was released in two separate versions. The first is the English version scored by Benjamin Frankel while the American version was scored by Franz Waxman.. Apparently Dassin wasn't present during the editing session, but approved the American release. During this feature, Christopher Husted (of the Bernard Herrmann estate), examines both versions, exploring the affects on each one. He starts with the differences of the film itself and then goes on to discuss the music including the dynamic Waxman score that eventually was chosen. He does this by way of scene after scene comparisons. Wait till you see how the British version looks compared to the restored version. It would appear that a number of interesting (and critically important) scenes have been trimmed from the American version, including more of Gene Tierney. A very interesting inclusion. Duration: 23:53 minutes.
    [*] Ciné-Parade Interview is an old B&W interview with Dassin who reflects on some of his personal experiences including a very funny and interesting story while working with the great but tempermental Joan Crawford as well as his experiences while under contract at MGM, working for Louis B. Mayer. The quality isn’t the greatest but is certainly serviceable. Duration: 25:24 minutes.
    [*] The Theatrical Trailer is reasonably good condition although little if any work was done with this. Duration: 2:22 minutes
    [*] And finally, an Insert is included. An eight page folded booklet is included which lists the chapter stops, a complete list cast & crew members, technical credits and finally, a four page essay on the film by Paul Arthur, a professor of English and film studies at Montclair State University.

    Special Features: 4.5/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    I enjoyed Night And The City quite a bit, although I didn’t find it quite as engaging as many of the other films noir from the period. Night And The City is Film Noir 101. The film showcases a number of textbook examples of characteristics and elements that are used to frequently illustrate the movement. Unfortunately the storyline isn’t quite as gripping as many of the others within the canon. But the performance of Widmark alone, warrants a purchase of this disc, as he turns in one of the finest of his career. Think of it as a very good noir, not necessarily a great one.

    In terms of the disc itself, Criterion has done another tremendous job, offering a presentation that is first-rate and they’ve trimmed this classic with a diverse array of highly informative supplements.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)


    Release Date: February 1st, 2005
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    Real Name:
    I received my dvds yesterday with Night and the City and Thieves Highway. I'm going to try to watch one of them today, but I'm also working through the Warner Gangster boxset. So many dvds to watch and so little time to watch them. Anyhow, great review Herb.

  3. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

    Dec 11, 2000
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    What Robert said - I've got a huge stack o' DVDs to wade through and both NatC and TH are on the way. Haven't seen either one in years though, so I'm really looking forward to them.

    I thought Widmark was still alive so it's a shame that he wasn't at least interviewed for this release.

    Superb review as always, BTW. [​IMG]
  4. Joe Cortez

    Joe Cortez Stunt Coordinator

    May 29, 2002
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    Thanks for the review. I'll definitely keep my eyes peeled for this one, but I'm especially excited by the release of La Commare Secca.
  5. Sergio A

    Sergio A Stunt Coordinator

    May 11, 2003
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    "I thought Widmark was still alive so it's a shame that he wasn't at least interviewed for this release."

    Not only is Widmark still alive (I have no idea how well he is - he turned 90 on boxing day), but so are Googie Withers and Herbert Lom for that matter.

    I am very curious to find out about the British version since the one shown on satellite TV here in the UK is the US cut with Waxman's score.
  6. Deepak Shenoy

    Deepak Shenoy Supporting Actor

    Jul 3, 1998
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    Thanks Herb for another fine review. My DVDs are on their way (should arrive on Monday). Another noir I can't wait for is Kiss of Death also starring Widmark. I wonder if Fox will be releasing it as a part of their new Noir line or licensing it to Criterion.
  7. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Rumor has it that Anchor Bay will be releasing KoD later this year as part of their licensing agreement with Fox (per Mondo Digital). Fingers crossed…
  8. Matt_P

    Matt_P Second Unit

    Sep 19, 2000
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    La Commare secca is a beauty! My review should be up tomorrow at dOc.

    A very comprehensive job, Herb.

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