Widmark is superb in what may be his best performance. He brings to mind James Cagney at times, but he’s actually more like Bugs Bunny, full of bravado and nervous energy.
And let’s not forget Mike Mazurski as the Strangler, as brutish as he was playing Moose Malloy in Murder, My Sweet but with a hint of more intelligence, and portly Francis L. Sullivan, a “fat man” in the style of Sydney Greenstreet, but more tragic. Herbert Lom, Googie Withers, and Stanislaw Zbyazko, once a real star of Roman-Greco wrestling, are also excellent. Gene Tierney, however, is superfluous as Widmark’s girlfriend, and Hugh Marlowe, who plays the sort of bland role he was often assigned in 20th Century Fox films, has little to do but express his disapproval for Fabian’s way of life.
The look of the film is one of its strengths with scenes cast in a luminous black contrasted with almost ghostly whites.
Dismissed as lurid nonsense about undesirable characters when released in 1950 (Variety chimed in with one of the few positive reviews), Night and the City is a masterpiece that hasn’t dated a bit. It has a modern sensibility that makes it more contemporary than its 1992 remake (with Robert DeNiro in Widmark’s role).
© 2009 Brian W. Fairbanks