Wednesday, March 23, 2005

DVD: Night and the City (1950)

When we first see Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) in Jules Dassin’s film noir, he’s running. And he doesn’t stop for the length of the movie.

Harry, a grifter on the make in London, is “an artist without an art.” He’s full of ideas that never pan out, and his boundless energy is beginning to curdle into desperation. He strikes on a plan to become a wrestling promoter, but in order for it to work he’ll have to keep several balls in the air and con a few close friends at the same time. And Harry has no idea how many of those friends see right through him.

Dassin’s film, with its instinctive feel for the underworld, dazzles. As befits a movie with the definitive noir title, it’s about as dark as the genre gets. This thing doesn’t end well for any of its finely-drawn characters.

The new Criterion DVD contains some choice extras. In a recent interview, Dassin admits that because Fox hurried the film into production before he was blacklisted, he never read the Gerald Kersh novel on which it’s based – and still hasn’t. In a 1972 clip, Dassin brilliantly recounts a Louis B. Mayer story about a racehorse that is one of the best illustrations of how studios feel about directors that I’ve ever heard.

The 1992 remake, starring Robert DeNiro and set in New York, never quite comes together. But the screenplay by novelist Richard Price cagily updates the story and features some great, coruscating dialogue.

Noticed: Wait, Don’t Tell Me ...

Or: yet another example of the insidious nature of pop culture.

As I’m going to bed the plot of a TV episode pops into my head. A kid wants a skateboard for his birthday, but the family budget is tight. His father makes him one instead. The kid is so embarrassed that he pretends the homemade board is stolen. Hilarity ensues.

And I find that I can’t fall asleep until I figure out what show this episode is from. Here’s an example of my thought process as I’m trying to drift off:

I don’t know why, but it feels like an ABC show ... ROSEANNE? No, I don’t remember D.J. being into skateboarding ... I want to say HOME IMPROVEMENT, but the Taylors didn’t have money problems ... did they?”

For some reason, I settled on JUST THE TEN OF US, part of ABC’s old TGIF lineup and a show I never liked, but one that my younger sister and brother watched religiously. Turns out I was right.

Which means there’s a synapse in my brain devoted solely to this piece of information. I couldn’t be more proud.