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Film / Night and the City

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"I just want to be somebody."
Harry Fabian

A 1950 Film Noir directed by Jules Dassin, Night and the City is a bleak tale of ambition, morality, and sacrifice. It is an adaptation of Gerald Kersh's 1938 novel of the same name.

The film's protagonist is Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), whose ambition is to control all of professional wrestling in London. His girlfriend, Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney) is not supportive of his plans, but sticks up for him anyway. Harry works as a con man, tricking men into visiting the Silver Fox Club, owned by Phillip Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) but really run by his wife, Helen (Googie Withers). Harry strikes a deal with Helen: she gives him £200 to obtain her restaurant license, so that she no longer has to serve her husband, and agrees help fund his wrestling plans.

One night, Harry meets an old retired Greek wrestler named Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko), and becomes his buisiness partner. Gregorious' son, Kristo (Herbert Lom) is aware of Harry's unscrupulous nature and warns his father, who trusts Harry. This disagreement causes a huge rift in the relationship. Because of his own ambition, Harry not only becomes more and more ruthless, but also makes several enemies. Namely a wrestler named The Strangler (Mike Mazurki).

A Lighter and Softer remake starring Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange was released in 1992 to very little fanfare.

Night and the Tropes:

  • Adaptational Nationality: In the novel, Harry is English, specifically Cockney from the East End of London. His film counterpart is played by American actor Richard Widmark, who makes no attempt to disguise his accent whatsoever (although the Fabian of the book is described as faking an American accent, so that could be the case here and he's just extremely good at it).
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Harry goes into a Villainous BSoD after his friend Figler betrays him to Kristo and hides in a boathouse as he waits for Kristo to find and kill him. He makes a speech to an old woman about how stupid he was and how Mary loved him and how he should have been content with his life in the first place. Mary finds him and tries to help, but Harry has given up. In order to give Mary the 1000 pound reward that Kristo has promised, he runs towards Mary, cursing at her and shouting how she's a traitor in front of Kristo. He gets killed and thrown into the ocean, but it's implied that Mary isn't going to get the reward. It's hard not to pity Harry after his pointless sacrifice.
  • All for Nothing: Harry's wrestling promotion that he's worked so hard for falls to pieces after the death of Gregorious.
  • Ambition is Evil: Harry's ambition is what causes him to become manipulative and uncaring.
  • Amoral Attorney: Harry used to be one before becoming a con man.
  • Anti-Hero: Harry is a Villain Protagonist until Kristo puts a hit out on him. In which he becomes a Type V as he at least didn't murder anyone.
  • Anti-Villain: Kristo is a Type II. He puts a hit out on Harry and even orders his death at the end of the film, but he is purely motivated by the death of his father.
  • The Apprentice: Nicholas to his master Gregorious.
  • Arc Words: "A life of ease and plenty."
  • Badass Boast: Gregorious to Harry about Nicholas: "Strangler? Nicholas pin ten Stranglers! All in same ring, same time."
  • Badass Crew: Gregorious and the other wrestlers at Fabian's Gym.
  • Bad Guy Bar: The Silver Fox Club, where men are cheated out of their money.
  • Bear Hug: What Gregorious uses to finish and beat The Strangler.
  • Betty and Veronica: Mary's suitors Harry (the reckless hustler who steals from her) and Adam (the affable, settled artist). Harry is the one she clearly cares about more.
  • Big Bad: Kristo becomes this after putting a hit out on Harry, kicking off the third act.
  • Blood Knight: Deconstructed with Gregorious, who loves wrestling and is very proud of his skill. It gets him killed when he fights The Strangler and dies because of his aged body.
  • Bond One-Liner: From Gregorious to Kristo after beating The Strangler: "That's what I do to your clowns."
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Harry gives himself up to Kristo and The Strangler so that Mary could get the reward money. It doesn't work.
  • The Brute: The Strangler.
  • Cool Old Guy: Gregorious is a retired wrestler and is still very strong despite being middle-aged/elderly. He even beats The Strangler in a fight, though it costs him his life.
  • Cool Old Lady: Anna, who is a remorseful old smuggler and shows sympathy for an exhausted Hary and lets him sit down and stop running while listening to him talk.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Harry slips into a Villainous BSoD after his friend gives him up to Kristo.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Helen snaps at Molly the nightclubs flower seller for eating inside and leaving crumbs. When Phil leaves her everything instead of Helen, she rubs in how she has that and Helen has nothing.
  • Downer Ending: Harry's plans are destroyed, everyone around him is miserable and he's driven to let himself be killed in a hope it will bring something to May even though she'd rather have him stay alive, and the man who ordered his death, Kristo won't get punished.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Helen is the one behind the cons and corruption in The Silver Fox Club and runs things there, her husband merely owns the place.
    • Dragon with an Agenda: But she has no care for her husband and leaves him as soon as she gets her restaurant license.
  • Driven to Suicide: Phillip shoots himself after Helen leaves him.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Figler who is hiding Harry from Kristo sells him out to Kristo despite having appeared to be the friend of Harry who was on the best terms with him in his one previous scene. Harry quickly realizes this, which sends him over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Kristo, a gang boss, is extremely saddened after his father dies and vows revenge on Harry, who indirectly killed him.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Harry acts friendly and charming while sweet talking his targets but drops the act and becomes an aggressive Jerkass the moment things don't go his way. Mary, Phillip and Kristo are the only ones who see through it.
    • Phil himself can seem like a kind, encouraging man even as he's setting up Harry into a situation likely to get him murdered (out of revenge for Harry romancing Helen, or at least helping her out from under Phil's thumb) while retaining that casual smile and manner.
  • Film Noir
  • Gold Digger: Helen hates her husband and is only married to him so that she could run the club.
  • Heel Realization: While waiting for Kristo to kill him, Harry realizes how obsessed he was and regrets hurting Mary.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Harry hands himself over to Kristo so that Mary could get the reward money.
  • Irony: Helen gets her forged license revoked the night her club is about to open.
  • Karma Houdini: Kristo.
  • King of the Homeless: Figler, who runs a bunch of beggars with fake disabilities and tries to persuade Harry to join in on the racket rather than chasing get rich schemes.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Strangler is arrested instantly after killing Harry due to the bounty on him for the death of the man who the Strangler was the one to technically kill.
  • Lethal Chef: Mary's friend and neighbor Adam burns spaghetti when he tries to cook it.
  • Like a Son to Me: Nicholas to Gregorious, unlike Kristo his real son.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Harry's entire business is built on this trope.
  • Meaningful Name: The Strangler chokes and kills Harry at the end of the film.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Gregorious and The Strangler beat the crap out of each other. Gregorious wins, but at the cost of his own life.
  • No Name Given: Kristo and Gregorious don't have given last names while The Strangler doesn't have a given real name.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Kristo rarely has any expression besides a scowl or a look or mild concern.
  • Plan: Raise 400 pounds from Phillip and Helen to fund wrestling business, become partners with a retired wrestler, then use him as protection against his powerful mob boss/wrestling promoter son. When said son schemes with Phil to turn his father against Fabian by requiring the son's brute to fight, the plan changes to antagonizing said brute & the father against each other until the latter insists his protege fight said brute. The plan backfires when said brute kills the father and the son AND the brute blame him for it, resulting the son putting a hit out on him. Not to mention that Phillip has withdrawn his funds.
  • Pro Wrestling Is Real: Played with. Kristo runs a wrestling promotion that displays the "show-wrestling" that pro wrestling is known for today, while his father Gregorious is trying to start up a wrestling promotion that features real "Greco-Roman" wrestling. In reality, all pro wrestling at this point in time was "show-wrestling."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Phillip to Harry: "You have everything, but you're a dead man."
  • Retired Badass: Gregorious the Great. "Finest wrestler the world has ever known."
  • Technician vs. Performer: Gregorious vs. The Strangler
  • Villain Protagonist: Harry.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: During the fight between Gregorious and The Strangler we are treated to old school wrestling techniques like the Bear Hug, Chokeholds, headlocks, neck cranks, armbars, snapmares, a dragon sleeper and a double wristlock aka kimura lock.
  • You Killed My Father: Kristo towards both Harry and The Strangler.