• U.S.

The New Pictures, Jul. 3, 1950

6 minute read

Night and the City (20th Century-Fox) is a gaudy melodrama showing the misadventures of a double-dealing nightclub tout (Richard Widmark) in London’s lower depths. Based on a Gerald Kersh novel and filmed on location, it gets some lurid effects out of a sordid story, murky backgrounds and a gallery of grotesque characters. Unfortunately, the excitement runs down well before the picture does.

A shiftless cheat with toplofty schemes, Widmark sets out to get control of London wrestling. He crosses up several minor characters and every major one, including his girl (Gene Tierney). Then he crosses himself up. Duped by Widmark, his partner (Wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko) dies after an agonizingly filmed grudge fight with Wrestler Mike Mazurki. The dead man’s avenging son sets the whale city’s underworld on Widmark’s heels in an overlong, anticlimactic chase.

Director Jules (The Naked City) Dassin’s staging and Franz Waxman’s overwrought musical score try to outdo each other in stridency. Aging (seventyish) Wrestler Zbyszko is natural and dignified in his acting debut, and Actor Widmark turns the neat trick of working up some sympathy for an unsavory character.

The Lawless (Paramount) is not only a good movie but, considering its makers, it is also as unexpected as a slum documentary by Cecil B. DeMille. Produced by William H. Pine and William C. Thomas (the “Dollar Bills”), longtime Hollywood specialists in low-budgeted blood & thunder hokum (Captain China, El Paso), it is an honest, unpretentious picture about racial prejudice and mob violence.

No film of towering significance, it attempts little more than a skin-deep approach to its grim subjects, holds itself well within the limits of melodramatic action. In a California fruit-growing town, a Mexican-American youth (Lalo Rios) innocently gets into trouble with the police. While he flees in fear, more serious charges pile up against him, inflaming the town’s prejudice against its underprivileged Latin colony.

The local newspaper editor (Macdonald Carey), a newcomer seeking an ivory tower after a stormy career as a foreign correspondent, is reluctant to mix in political controversy. But as his conscience is needled by a reporter (Gail Russell) for a Mexican-American weekly, he saves the youth’s life during a manhunt, begins to crusade for him, and narrowly averts a lynching at the town jail.

Though the movie is oversimplified, occasionally awkward, given to coincidence and saddled with a hand-me-down musical score, its imperfections seem trivial alongside its rough-hewn virtues. Using unvarnished photography on the streets, interiors and people of real California towns, Director Joseph Losey has given the picture a startling look of reality. For the setting of his manhunt’s climax, he takes imaginative advantage of the stony, rolling wastes of a vast gold-dredging field. His mob scenes crackle with a spontaneous movement and raw vitality usually found only in bang-up newsreel footage.

Geoffrey Homes’s script, which has the prime merit of never compromising with its theme, creates a believable, rounded characterization of a newspaperman—something rarely seen on the screen. Actor Carey fills the role admirably with a rumpled, unglamorous performance. Young Rios, who has never acted before, fits neatly into the part of the victimized fugitive. Pretty Actress Russell is so good as a quietly bitter Mexican-American girl that filmgoers may feel they are seeing her for the first time, too.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Rank; Eagle Lion Classics) is a blue-ribbon British comedy filled with wit, irony and impudent fun. In detailing the memoirs of an Edwardian gentleman who systematically murders his way into the peerage, it combines the overcivilized urbanity and understatement of the English comic style with the saucy irreverence of the French comic spirit.

The movie begins as its hero, the tenth Duke of Chalfont (Dennis Price), puts the finishing touches on his memoirs, to keep an early-morning engagement on the gallows with a fawning hangman. Then, with his brittle narration on the sound track, the story of his rise & fall is pictured in flashback.

The son of a noblewoman who married beneath her station, he grows up poor but proud, snubbed by his wealthy relatives but schooled by his mother in the lore of the dukedom and in his distant claim to the title. Eventually he decides to shorten the distance by killing off the eight members of the D’Ascoyne family who stand between him and his noble heritage.

He carves out his homicidal career with perfect grace, elegant manners and good humor. Using such weapons as poison, dynamite and bow &. arrow, he disposes ingeniously of half a dozen D’Ascoynes, while providence helpfully dispatches a couple more. The victims (all of them played by Alec Guinness, who made a recent Broadway splash in T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party): a priggish duke, a fatuous parson, a philandering fop, an amiable photography enthusiast, a strait-laced admiral, a Blimpish general, a gullible banker and a suffragette.

When not busy with his chores of murder and attending funerals, Price shuttles between a purring, sharp-clawed flirt (Joan Greenwood) who happens to be married, and a genteel heiress (Valerie Hobson) whom he has widowed in the line of operations. He wins the dukedom, the widow, and, at long last, his just deserts. But, true to the film’s Gallic flavor, his undoing (even as underscored in the U.S. version by order of the Johnston Office) stems not from his crimes but from an almost irrelevant quirk of fate.

Guinness’ eight-role performance is a brilliantly successful tour de force, with each character so sharply defined and acted that it is hard to see how eight different players could have done as well. But it is a measure of the movie’s quality that the rest of the picture does not fall in Guinness’ shadow. Actress Hobson and Actor Price, who resembles a young Charles Boyer, perform impeccably, and Actress Greenwood exudes more sex appeal in her throaty voice than most Hollywood belles summon up from head to toe. All of them should be grateful to Writer-Director Robert Hamer and his co-scripter, John Dighton, for exceptional skill in concocting one of the best films of the year.

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