THE BRITISH ARE COMING! THE BRITISH ARE COMING!
When John, Paul, George and Ringo sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the Ed Sullivan Show, I was right there with all the girls in class picking out my favorite Beatle. ( Paul, of course. The Cute One ). I hadn’t realized back in 1964 that the first British Invasion first landed in Hollywood. The Brits made their mark on Hollywood in a number of ways, with actors (Laughton, Olivier, Leigh, Niven, Rathbone, Colman, et al) directors ( Hitchcock, do we need more? Okay okay, Lean ) but most importantly with film. So with this 2nd ANNUAL BRITISH INVADERS BLOGATHON hosted by Terence Towles Canote of A SHROUD OF THOUGHT, I present my contribution with some gritty tea and crumpets…
RICHARD WIDMARK is nothing less than spectacular in 1950’s “NIGHT AND THE CITY.” He holds the screen for the entire ninety-plus minutes. Whether begging, pleading, laughing, needling, cajoling, wheeling and dealing…he is magnificent. High praise, you think?? An understatement, I say. In this film, Widmark is like a shark that cannot stop moving and must keep swimming. Or an alcoholic…a junkie looking for a higher fix…just one last fix…until the next time. I cannot tear my eyes away from him, but there are many in the cast who are worth watching as well.
We follow the journey of a man with high ambitions; but he doesn’t do the work to achieve them. He’s a bit of a “get-rich-quick” kind of guy. Short cuts. He’s come to the idea of promoting wrestling due to some other shenanigans he’s involved with. He’s always reaching for that for that carrot…that brass ring. Always reaching.
It’s a tense scene when Widmark goes to his boss for the money and his boss laughs at him. The boss is wonderfully played by Francis L. Sullivan. He’s a Sidney Greenstreet- Laird Cregar girth of man. It seems that Widmark was always coming up with a plan or a scheme…so much so that his boss tells him:
“Been having a pleasant holiday in Cannes or spending the weekend at Windsor Castle? Mr. Fabian is reported to be suffering from a highly inflamed imagination coupled by delusions of grandeur.”
When Widmark cries wolf ( again ), this time with a plan ‘guaranteed not to fail’ his boss laughs and Widmark laughs with him…until he realizes he IS the joke. His laughter turns imperceptibly into a pitiable whine. The transition is so slight and subtle. Widmark has the market cornered. “I’LL SHOW YOU!!!” cries Widmark. How many times have you said that to family, friends, co-workers or ex-lovers. Widmark was like a little boy talking to his father. He has something to prove.
Gene Tierney plays Widmark’s lover in this movie. At first I thought she was too much fire power for such a small role; but now I’m thinking BECAUSE of her cachet as Gene Tierney, it might make it worse Widmark’s throwing away a swell gal and relationship. Yes, anyone could have played her. ( What are these two Americans doing here in London anyhows old Chap? Old Bean?? ) But Tierney is fine in the part. There’s Hugh Marlowe who’ll be the man waiting-in-the-wings for her.
TELL ME LIES, TELL ME SWEET LITTLE LIES
Uhhhm, she’s just not that into you…
There was a sad little scene with Tierney and Sullivan, both framed by different doorways while they both espouse and lie about their relationships with their partner. We’ve already seen Sullivan rudely rebuffed by his wife; she can’t bear to even be touched by him. That bought Sullivan some sympathy from me. They both try to save face. This is my first introduction to Googie Winters. I am thunder-struck!
WRESTLING vs NIGHT CLUB
I love films with opposing goals. You know…that ‘Irresistible Force Meets The Immovable Object trope’. This happens when Widmark comes up against his boss’ wife Helen, played terrifyingly wonderful by Googie Withers. Googie. The name sounds soft and cuddly doesn’t it? This ain’t Dodie Goodman folks! My God she is withering in HER ambition; but really no less than anybody else wanting what they want. It’s not worse, because she is a woman. She can give Widmark the money he needs. ( No one else will lend it to him ). But she has her OWN reasons; she wants to open up her own club and leave her husband. I loved the scene between Widmark and Withers. She holds out hope for our poor wretch of a rat and then snatches the cheese from him. Withers reminds me of Judith Anderson. She is sexy as hell. Widmark is no match for her. It’s like watching them play a game of tennis; only she’s Serena Williams and he is a three year old boy with a hole in his badminton racket:
“I’ve got a night club. Bought it a year ago…I got it on credit. In another year all I have to do is to put five shillings for a license and I’m in business. But I can’t wait another day. One more year living with that– I’ve got to get away from it Harry. I must get away before I– that’s what the money’s for, a license and you’re the only man I know who can get it. You’re going to bribe, steal, murder, I don’t care WHAT you do with that money. You’re going to get a license for that club now!!”
Withers’ ambition has been thwarted perhaps because she’s a woman. It’s five years after the war. She might’ve even married Sullivan for his money/security. But that’s pure speculation on my part. Is there any question that Widmark and Withers might have had a brief fling? For good measure, she adds:
“Now telephone that wrestler. Tell him you’re set. You’ll string him AND Phil along. But night and day you’re going to do one thing. Rip London apart if you have to but you’re going to get me that license!”
Bone chillingly cold..clenched…fury! Her intensity takes my breath away. Widmark’s des-peration is no match for Withers’ ambition. I was more afraid of her than any of the men in the film.
YOU WANNA WRESTLE FOR WIDMARK OR WRESTLE FOR LOM?
Herbert Lom. I’ve always loved that guy. Methodical, always working. Maybe not “A” list like Attenborough or Mason or Trevor Howard but he’s reliably good. His eye twitching in the “Pink Panther” movies is enough to wipe me out. I didn’t look at the credits at the beginning of my YouTube viewing of “Night and the City”, but when I saw him and heard his voice…I knew it was Herbert Lom. And he was riveting. Unwavering, unblinking, flat affect. < SIGH! >. And Lom doesn’t mince words with Widmark:
“Go away, Mr. Fabian. Go to Montreal which is in Canada. There you can promote wrestling. In London, you cannot. I say it, Mr. Fabian.”
Jules Dassin does this cool thing twice: once with Lom standing still and looking and secondly when Sullivan discovers his Googie’s silver fox fur is missing. Dassin lets Widmark spins his web, talk fast, act frenetic all the while ( Lom / Sullivan ) just stand there watching or saying very little. Wonderful juxtaposition of acting…of purpose. They’re calm while Widmark is spinning.
The movie’s plot is a relentlessly spinning web. Widmark keeps climbing down deeper and deeper into the well, all the while thinking he has the answers and is climbing up.
THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND
An interesting turn of events occurs when Husband ( Sullivan ) and Promoter ( Lom ) team up in cahoots AGAINST Widmark. I want to feel sorry for Widmark’s poor rat-like troll. But I just can’t. I can summon up no sympathy. What’s his excuse? Does not even having Gene Tierney to share life with, make him think about what he’s getting himself into??? Have you ever seen someone spin a web so tightly noosed around one’s own neck?? That’s Widmark…the beauty and pity of it.
OEDIPUS REX: GRECO-ROMAN STYLE
Lom, Raymond and Zbyszko
Director Jules Dassin throws a dastardly father and son monkey wrench into things. As dead-sounding as Lom sounds, he melts at the feet of his father. I loved the actor who played Gregorius: Stanislaus Zbyszko. ( Go on…pronounce it. I dare ya! ) Stan is a big bear of a man, and has his surrogate son in the guise of cutie-pie Ken Raymond playing Nikolas. It’s all mixed up with “my son is a gangster…now you be my son.” Aye yi yi. Another wrinkle to cross up fate for Widmark’s character. In “Night and the City”, everyone wants a relationship they cannot have: Tierney with Widmark, Sullivan with Googie, the Wrestler and Lom. Oh and how could I forget: Widmark with Money & Success.
CLASH OF THE TITANS: GRECO – ROMAN STYLE
My God, that fight between the great Mike Mazurki and Stanislaus Zbyszko was fantastic, both wrestlers in real life. No music, just the grunts and groans and fists and forearms of two mountain men…titans. I winced and bobbed and weaved and felt every blow, more than anything Scorcese did in “Raging Bull.” And in the end…father and son reuniting broke my heart. Dassin allowed them to have this quiet touching last scene together. I’m telling you, this is not a Hollywood movie; its sensibility is so mature.
“Night and the City” is a movie about ambition; the clash of ambition. Everyone wants to achieve something. These ambitions intersect on a collision course. Widmark makes me think of Andy Griffith in “A Face in the Crowd” – the big ego and ambition and the fall. Widmark plays Sisyphus. We watch with fascination as the boulder of his dreams comes rolling and tumbling inexorably past him.
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CINEMAVEN’S GASP-WORTHY MOMENTS << SPOILER ALERT!! >>
YES… “Night and the City” made me gasp. Now these moments won’t mean anything to you if you haven’t seen the film, and if you haven’t seen the film ( but want to ) don’t read this:
- Helen ( Googie Withers ) goes BACK to her husband…SMH!
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- When The Husband is dead and the old lady shows Googie the box of papers, I gasped the way Googie recedes into the darkness to the sound of an accordian which was coming from the next scene.
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- During the wrestling match, my mouth was agape. It was brutal to watch. Someone got the better of Mike Mazurki with that Heimlich Maneuver??
( “Iwantyoushouldfindawrestler!” )
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- When Widmark shows up with the money to Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) and he quietly listens to Widmark’s dreams and plans while he sees that the fur coat is gone…AND TEARS UP KRISTO’S CARD!
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- Folks, I can’t even…see the movie. See the movie!
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- When Mary (TIERNEY) shows up on the waterfront and Harry makes her that final offer re: a reward, yup, my jaw dropped. I had no air left to gasp.
A THIRD British Invasion is underway ( read here ) and maybe our xenophobia is surpas-sing our Anglophilia ( jobs hard to come by ). But looking back in nostalgia always feels more comfortable. Again, click on the banner below for some more fascinating contributions the British made to film:
( H O M E )