OFTEN HAILED as one of the most typical of film noirs, the 1950 Night (on disc Feb. 1) is also atypical of the hard-boiled American genre since it's set in London's underworld. The Anglo-American cast is led by Richard Widmark, and its director, Jules Dassin, spent the rest of his career working in Europe after being blacklisted in Hollywood. As a result, rather too much has been made of the picture as an allegory for Dassin's plight, since petty hustler Widmark spends most of the story running for his life after being double-crossed at every turn.
"You're a dead man," a club owner tells Widmark, who gets embroiled in a crooked scheme to promote Greco- Roman wrestling, and it takes a swift 95 minutes for Widmark to agree with just that assessment. Though there's lots of backstabbing and betrayal, the film has great economy in laying out its hero's certain doom. Night is exemplary of its form in that the plot is so relentless and unsparing: Widmark's con isn't truly venal, but his constant deceiving of others (and self-deception) makes it clear where he's headed. Trying to score 200 pounds at the outset, he ends up being worth 1,000—dead. You can't argue with that kind of math, nor does Widmark in the final scenes.
Among the extras, the 94-year-old Dassin provides some colorful anecdotes on the production, but the commentary is left to a critic. Widmark's alive, too, but sadly absent here. At least the print is excellent (as usual for Criterion), restored from an original nitrate negative discovered in 1999. The crisp black-and-white cinematography, often filmed from low angles with menacing shadows on the ceilings, helps convey Widmark's claustrophobia. He hides like a rat in alleys and World War II rubble by the waterfront, and he ends up drowned like a rat in the Thames. That same fateful morning he says, "I was so close to being on top. So close," which pretty much sums up the spirit of film noir.
ON DISC FEB. 22,I ♥ Huckabees has cast and crew commentary; Catherine Breillat's Sex Is Comedy desconstructs an onscreen coupling; and Around the Bend squanders the talents of Michael Caine and Christopher Walken. Also look for the Korean drama Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, Get Shorty, a new Criterion edition of My Own Private Idaho, the fine documentary My Architect, the less great Bush's Brain (about Karl Rove), the amusing globalization satire The Yes Men, Heat (on two discs), Goodbye Dragon Inn, and the extended director's cut of Donnie Darko. A must to avoid: Jimmy Fallon in Taxi.