“I’m through hustling for nightclubs — for you or for anybody else!”
A small-time American hustler (Richard Widmark) with a loyal girlfriend (Gene Tierney) — working on commission for a nightclub owner (Francis L. Sullivan) — schemes with Sullivan’s ambitious wife (Googie Withers) to raise money for a new venture in London: Greco-Roman wrestling as epitomized by an aging icon in the field (Stanislaus Zbyszko), whose mobster son (Herbert Lom) runs a more sensationalized wrestling show. But when Nosseross (Sullivan) suspects Widmark of having an affair with his wife, he plots to foil the venture and prompt Widmark’s downfall.
After a string of Peary-listed postwar features — including Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), and Thieves’ Highway (1949) — Jules Dassin’s final film in Hollywood before being blacklisted and moving to Europe was this highly atmospheric adaptation of a novel by Gerald Kersh. It was referred to by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as “a turgid pictorial grotesque” (!!!), yet considered worthy of preservation by the Academy Film Archive in 2004 — ah, how opinions change… DVD Savant, who contributed a commentary to the film’s Criterion DVD release, labels it a “key loser noir”, noting that after having “risen from obscurity to top-of-the-heap noir status in the last twenty years”, “just about everybody recognizes its top roost among expressionist noirs using visuals to communicate extreme alienation and anxiety.”
I have a few quibbles with the film — including the underdeveloped roles of Tierney and her would-be suitor (guy-next door Hugh Marlowe), and the seemingly random presence of Americans Widmark, Tierney, and Marlowe in London — but otherwise agree this has held up well as a convincingly atmospheric dive into seediness and despair. Widmark is perfectly cast as a loser who’s convinced he’s not: we’ve likely all known individuals like him, sure that their latest and greatest idea will surpass all previous failures, and who will stop at nothing (including deception and fraud) to fulfill their ill-conceived dreams. While portly Sullivan borders on caricature in his role as a jealously supercilious club owner, Herbert Lom is pitch perfect as a soft-spoken but deadly mobster you seriously don’t want to mess with, and Max Greene’s cinematography is consistently mesmerizing.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Richard Widmark at Harry Fabian
- Herbert Lom as Kristo
- Fine direction
- Max Greene’s noir-ish cinematography
Yes, once, as an atmospheric noir outing. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.