Thursday, March 8, 2012

Night and the City

Get out your cheap tricks and greco-roman wrestling techniques, we're reviewing Night and the City!
Night and the City is kind of a weird one. It takes place in London, but focuses on mostly a handful of Americans. It has a great overall noir feel to it, but its main character feels lacking. But hey, there's a good cautionary tale of not to write a cheque your black and blue butt can't cash.

Our film revolves around Harry Fabian(Richard Widmark), a professional hustler always looking to make it big, always borrowing money from the wrong people.  He happens upon the scam of all scams when he runs into a famous Greco- Roman wrestler, but will this scheme finally make him famous or finally set him over the edge?

Looking back, Night and the City has a a great overall noir mood and tone. It's mostly set at night(obviously), things get progressively complicated, and by the end of it, all of the characters are worse off than they were in the beginning. Everyone gets the raw end of the stick? Now THAT'S noir.

The main character of Harry is the only problem I have. I don't like him.  Which, I have to give credit to Widmark for that because he came off as a huge desperate conman loafer.  And yes, this is noir, they shouldn't all be good guys, and I'm the one who's always parading around shouting about despicable protagonists with hearts of silver, but I need some reason to like him, and there wasn't anything there for Harry. He's just a jerk. I found myself waiting, hoping even, for the other shoe to drop.  And when he finally got his comeuppance, it wasn't tragic, it was just desserts.

Excluding his character though, it was fairly interesting to see how he worked as a conman and all his little tricks to trick people into giving him what he wants, and making them think it was their idea. He's a louse, but damned if he's not perfect at it. Other than Harry, the film is filled with various intriguing characters, ranging from Marry(Gene Tierney), the good hearted singer in love with Harry, to Philip Nosseross(Francis L. Sullivan), the philosophical but back-handed club owner.  I found I was more interested in all of them and their little stories and quirks much more than I was with Harry.

I found the first half a bit slow and annoying, though I do like how they're setting everyone up to fail. After all, setting up the dominos is the boring part, watching them fall is where the fun is. And at the end of the second act when the dominos do commence their falling(started up with a great suspenseful wrestling match), it's all downhill rocketing enjoyment from there. Things just get worse and worse and worse until everyone is sitting at the bottom, wondering how the hell they got there.

Using London as the locale is an interesting choice, and it pays off in the moody atmosphere and the shadow laden frames.  Some of the shots are a moody kind of gorgeous with lots of tense visuals and sullen scenery. The visuals are one of the movie's highpoints.

 Overall It was a pretty good cautionary tale of biting off more than you can chew. It has a slow start and an unlikable protagonist, but it's a thrill ride seeing everyone fall in the third act. In fact I wish they'd cut out the second act and got right to the good stuff.

THE GOOD: Nice moody locale and shots, interesting characters, great third act, no one gets out on top.

THE BAD: Jerk protagonist, slow first act.

THE VERDICT: It was ok. Not a must-see, but still a fairly good thrill ride.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Casablanca, Double Indemnity

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Early on, we get to see Harry work his magic. 3 Americans walk into a bar, Harry bribes the driver to get details on them, and cons them into thinking he's a great guy so he can direct them to the club he works for. Interesting, but what a louse.

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