Night and the City (1950)

Night and the City (1950), directed by Jules Dassin.

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a hyperkinetic "sports promoter", a cheap hustler with big talk and big plans. He's a modern man-boy, an "artist without an art" who never gets a break and is always mooching from his friends (so-called) and his girl (lovely Gene Tierney), a nightclub singer. We don't even know where he lives; he's always on the move.

Harry devises a cunning plan to dominate wrestling in London. All he has to do is lie to and cheat everyone in sight. For all his scheming he is tragically oblivious to what is happening around him: he is playing games with people who will kill him for a nickel. He's still running at the end, being hunted.

Mean and gritty, this is deep in the "we're screwed" end of the film noir pool. A critic at the time described it as "little more than a melange of maggoty episodes". It's not true that there are no sympathetic characters. Gene Tierney and Hugh Marlowe are decent and likeable, although they are barely in it. Herbert Lom, gangster boss, honors his father, a proud champion wrestler of the old school, so that's one commandment obeyed. The old man himself has a fierce, uncompromising sense of honor.

Mike Mazurki, last seen here in Donovan's Reef (1963), is "the Strangler", and also served as an uncredited wrestling technical advisor. He was a pro not only in wrestling, but also in football and basketball (6'5"). Both he and Stanislaus Zbyszko (the old man) were the real deal and perform a long, brutal wrestling match.

Franz Waxman score. Remade in 1992.

Criterion DVD with an informative commentary track. Quite a lot about Dassin's struggle with the blacklist. This is the American cut, the director's preferred version.