The landscape is black and white, morals are on holiday, and cynicism is the most fashionable accessory this side of a cigarette and a drink. Yes, we're in film noir land.
Night and the City (1950) stars Richard Widmark as one of those go-getter types whose get always seems to consist of some kind of get rich quick scam. This one consists of cornering the wrestling audience in London by pitting a retired champion, classic wrestler against his son, a promoter who shows the fake stuff. Money for Widmark's venture is supplied by the wife of a nightclub owner who is severely enamored with Widmark. Problem: her husband knows all and isn't an idiot. Needless to say, things end poorly for Widmark (who, I might add, is the kind of guy who robs his girlfriend, Gene Tierney).
Overall, pretty good. Widmark is a very charismatic, high energy performer (roles that Widmark, thankfully, never played: a monk…a therapist…a librarian…a spy). Sometimes he got to be a little too much for me. Admittedly it makes sense for the character, but that doesn't make it less wearying. There's a long wrestling scene that's tough if you're not a fan of the sport (though it's undoubtedly heaven for those who are). But I loved the supporting performances, especially the great Herbert Lom as the wrestler's estranged son and Francis L. Sullivan as the jilted nightclub owner husband whose soft appearance belies the fact that he's the toughest guy in the movie.
In This Gun for Hire, Alan Ladd plays an assassin-for-hire who seeks revenge when one of his clients pays him with counterfeit bills. Meanwhile, nightclub performer Veronica Lake gets mixed up in things when she's booked to perform her act in a club owned by the bad client, who, as it turns out, is also employed by a chemical company whose boss is selling weapons secrets to the Japanese. The government enlists Lake to try to entrap the no-good traitors while her detective boyfriend, a dull Robert Preston sporting an uneasy pencil mustache, tries to find Ladd, who is suspected of being the counterfeitor. Lake gets tangled up with Ladd when they have the incredible good luck to be seated next to each other on a train to LA.
It sounds a little tangled in my version (I'm not winning a synopsis award for this one), but it all fits together in a nifty, tight package that has many little delights, notably Veronica Lake's novelty nightclub acts (she sings and does a magic act at the same time) and Tully Marshall's spectacularly cranky chemical company owner. The little diversion into 1940s psychotherapy babble is silly and doesn't fit in with the tone of the rest of the film, but that was so in vogue at the time you can't really blame them. It's easy to see why this movie made Alan Ladd a star. A must-see.