Choke Hold

Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is the bleakest of film noirs. Usually the genre is marked by its claustrophobic relationships: domestic betrayals, love triangles, tight-knit criminal cells that eventually implode. But in Dassin’s film, the fallout from the grandiose schemes of a small time hustler threaten to make casualties out of everyone he comes into contact with. Misfortune radiates outward from him, taking friend and foe alike.

Harry Fabian, played to sleazy perfection by Richard Widmark, thinks he’s hit on a sure thing after winning the confidence of an aging professional wrestler. He is determined to set up his own gym and dreams of dominating the wrestling circuit in London. But his reputation has preceded him and soon past colleagues and new enemies alike are conspiring to put him out of the picture once and for all.
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Things come to a head during a wrestling match near the end of the picture, usually the point where I begin to zone out. But this is no brawl for its own sake. The stakes are so high that I found myself grinding my teeth in expectation over the outcome. Even though Fabian has been revealed to be fairly cretinous, the agonized look on his face as he sees his world about to unravel can’t help but elicit sympathy. In fact the scene made me rethink everything that had happened up until that moment and I realized that in his way, Fabian reacted to every situation like a wrestler. He never thought too far ahead, and when finding himself in a tough spot he would merely maneuver himself enough to be free momentarily, only to be seized and squeezed again: every new assault threatening to be the one that proves his undoing.

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