Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB
United Kingdom/USA, 1950. Twentieth Century-Fox Productions. Screenplay by Jo Eisinger, based on the novel by Gerald Kersh. Cinematography by Mutz Greenbaum. Produced by Samuel G. Engel. Music by Benjamin Frankel, Franz Waxman. Production Design by C.P. Norman. Costume Design by Oleg Cassini, Margaret Furse. Film Editing by Nick DeMaggio, Sidney Stone.
A man who thinks he’s running a successful con on the whole world is only fooling himself, or so says Jules Dassin in this top-notch film noir that ended up being his last studio project before he was blacklisted and exiled in Europe (Fox head Daryl Zanuck encouraged him to shoot it in London to ensure production would be completed regardless of his outcome with the HUAC). Richard Widmark is exceptional as an American ex-patriate in the British capital who hustles up drunk businessmen to come visit his employers’ nightclub, dreaming of someday running his own operation despite his nightclub singing girlfriend (Gene Tierney) begging him to get a straight job and allow them to live a normal life as a couple.
Widmark sees his chance at the big time when he attends a prize fight and notices that in the audience is wrestling legend Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko), a classic Greco-Roman wrestler who abhors the kind of spectator sports that his estranged son (Herbert Lom) promotes all over the city. He gets into a complicated scheme involving promises to promote Gregorius’ fights while taking money from the club owner’s wife (Googie Withers at her sharpest) to obtain a nightclub licence for her to get away from her boorish husband (Francis L. Sullivan).
Secret deals and double crosses abound as Widmark fiddles ever more furiously for time but, eventually, the heat of the entire city’s underworld rises against him. Shot in the same gritty style that made The Naked City so potent and unpredictable, this film sees all involved working at the top of their game and has an uncompromising darkness to its plot that you won’t shake off easily.
The Criterion Collection: #274