The remarkable Richard Widmark and Jules Dassin team up in the 1950 thriller called “Night and the City,” which also stars Gene Tierney and Googie Withers. Widmark plays Harry Fabian, a con man who always looks for a bigger score. In London, He constantly dreams up new schemes that are just on the edge of legitimacy, to the consternation of his girlfriend Mary Bristol, played by Tierney. His plans always involve a small investment, but Fabian is chronically short of funds, and must either steal the money from Tierney or kowtow to a portly nightclub boss named Phil, played by the richly-voiced Francis L. Sullivan.
The big score for Fabian involves the wrestling racket in London, controlled by a Greek thug named Kristo, who doesn’t want anyone stealing his business. Fabian partners with Kristo’s father, an old-school wrestler who disapproves of the Kristo wrestlers and their new “circus” style. Fabian jumps into the racket with passion and energy, exposing himself to Kristo and his henchmen and to tragic consequences.
Fabian, a natural-born double-crosser, uses deceit, play-acting and emotional intensity to get what he wants, but he plays in the wrong arena. The film opens with a thug chasing Fabian for a few pounds and it ends in similar fashion with the entire underworld of London hot on his heels. This man on the run theme, which also occurs in 1949’s “The Third Man,” includes a desperate race through the city streets, made more visually interesting by both the war damage and the colorful characters of the London underworld.
Tierney’s Mary Bristol, who works as a songstress in a low-life club, seems capable of better things in life. We’re made to believe she can redeem Fabian at some point, but mostly I wondered why she lived in London. I love the Googie Withers character, Helen, who dreams of managing her own club, but must rely on her husband, the shady Phil, who she detests. She faces an uncertain future at the end, but remains in the London underworld, where she belongs.