Editor’s Notes: Night and the Cityand How to Get Away With Murder: The Complete First Season out on their respective formats August 4th.
Night and the City
Night and the City (The Criterion Collection), directed by Jules Dassin, is a film noir set in post-World War II London. Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a small-time hustler who aspires to make a name for himself in the wrestling rackets. With a history of get-rich schemes that went nowhere, he tries to hatch a lucrative plan with a famous wrestler. But there is no easy money in an underworld of questionable alliances, endless graft, and strong-arm violence. To achieve his goal, Harry cons pretty much everyone until the pendulum swings back and he’s at the receiving end of those he’s doublecrossed.
The quintessential film noir, Night and the City devotes much of its screen time to shots of Harry running from pursuers, dodging into shadowy alleyways, and attempting to hid in the fog-laden streets of London. Though Gene Tierney co-stars, this is definitely Widmark’s picture, and he’s excellent in it. He infuses Harry with cockiness and the self-assurance of a guy who goes though life taking risks in pursuit of personal gain. His Harry Fabian is doomed as a result of his ambition entering a dangerous world where monetary rewards come hand-in-hand with personal danger. Dassin illustrates a seamy slice of life, contributing stylish direction in what was, at the time, merely a B picture. Time has been good to Night and the City. The 1950 film is now appropriately regarded as a noir classic.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include the complete 101-minute British version of the film; audio commentary; 2005 interview with Jules Dassin; excerpts from a 1972 TV interview with Dassin; comparison of the scores for the British and American versions of the film; and a critical essay.
How to Get Away With Murder: The Complete First Season
How to Get Away With Murder: The Complete First Season (ABC/Disney) is a terribly poor setting for the considerable talents of its star, Viola Davis. Having seen Ms. Davis many times in Broadway shows, I was eager to see her as the lead in a brand new drama that revolved around the law. Boy, was I disappointed. Both in the show itself and in Ms. Davis in particular.
The show is based on so many ill-conceived and farfetched premises that it can be viewed almost like a comedy, though it’s played deadly straight. Annalise Keating (Davis) is a law professor who also practices criminal law. Like Nurse Jackie, she operates under her own rules and is portrayed as a brilliant maverick. This may be fine, but then the writers load the deck with a life filled with dark secrets — pure soap opera.
The relationship between Keating and her students— most of whom are arrogant and abrasive and would alienate juries in seconds — is hardly authentic and Keating showboats in the classroom rather than teaches. If I were Ms. Davis, I would have a serious talk with the writers. Previous shows, such as LA Law, have portrayed the legal profession more authentically, while doing far better characterizing the men and women who practice law. Boston Legal featured outlandish characters, but at least it was clear that the show was a broad satire. How to Get Away With Murder is sensationalism for ratings sake, little more.
Bonus features on the 4-disc DVD set include deleted scenes, bloopers, music video, and a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette.
For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.