Night and the City | Dir: Jules Dassin (1950; 92′) | With Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney. Googie Withers, Francis L. Sullivan . Released by BFI Video.
Adapted from Gerald Kersh’s homonymous novel, Night and the City is equally famous for the story surrounding its production – director Dassin was in the Hollywood blacklist at the time – as it is for the style of the film per se. Unsual for a noir film, that usually found their natuaral habitat in California, it was shot in London in the small hours, hastily, making the most of the gloomy aspect of the post-war city. The storyline is quintessential noir doom: an American in London (Richard Widmark) is desperate to do something with his life and, against all odds, goes into the wrestling rackets of London. Surely enough, he’s bound for tragedy in the violent world he tries to operate in.
The film comes wrapped in praise but I personally thought it seems contrived and overacted; despite having been made during the classic noir years, it comes across more like a homage to the style than the thing itself. Despite Widmark’s remarkable acting efforts (including some mad Bugs Bunny laughing moments) and all the right ingredients, Night and the City lacks pathos and is predictable. But, at 92 minutes, it wisely complies with the lean narrative mould that characterises the genre. The DVD includes a recent interview with Dassin.
Spirits of the Dead (1969; 116′) | With Jane Fonda, Alain Delon and Terence Stamp . Released by Arrow.
The portmanteau film was a popular format in the 1960s that cashed in on the auteur status that several European directors enjoyed at the time. Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963), which brought together Rosselini, Godard, Pasolini and Gregoretti, is one of its finest examples.
Spirits of the Dead, based on stories written by Edgar Allan Poe, was made in rather camp, irreverent mode and it is a lot of fun.
Jane Fonda does a Barbarella replay in the first section, Metzengerstein. Fonda plays a sadistic noble in a romanticised European past who takes revenge on the object of her uncorresponded love and then succumbs to lethal regret, finding temporary consolation in a horse. Directed by Roger Vadim, this section is a mixture of erotica and costume drama with many eye-catching scenes.
Louis Malle’s take on William Wilson is less fun but still beautiful to watch as it stars Alain Delon as the feverish man making a confession to a priest. Brigitte Bardot appears in a cards game sequence wearing a black wig.
Fellini rings in with the final segment, Toby Dammit, starring Terrence Stamp at the top of his fame, playing a drunk English film star being feted by the Italian film world. This is the most wildly imaginative of the three segments and the opening sequence is something to behold and drool over. As Fellinian as Fellini can be.
Preparez Vos Mouchoirs (1978; 104′) | With Gerard Depardieu, Carole Laure, Patrick Dewaere, Michael Serraul). Released by Arrow.
The winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1979, this film is called in English Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, quite an apt title version as the film does have its moments of tear-shedding tenderness. Depardieu plays a husband who is desperate to sexually satisfy his wife Solange (played by Laure) and decides to recruit Stephane (Dewaere) while the couples lunches in a restaurant. But both men fail and Solance eventually finds solace in a teenage boy. This resolution is the most interestingly quirky aspect of this study of the contrast between male and female behaviour in a film that oscillates between originality and all-out silliness.
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