Night And The City


Director: Irwin Winkler.
Screenplay: Richard Price.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jessica Lange, Alan King, Cliff Gorman, Jack Warden, Eli Wallach, Barry Primus, Gene Kirkwood, Anthony Canarozzi, Byron Utley, Regis Philbin, Michael Badalucco, Michael Rispoli, Chuck Low.

“Harry, you ever hear of Murphy’s Law? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. That law was dedicated to guys like you”.

Coming off the back of Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake in 1991, Robert DeNiro and Jessica Lange collaborated again a year later on another remake; this time Jules Dassin’s 1950’s film-noir, Night and the City. The original had a lot of admirers which can often lead to a retread being heavily criticised and even though I haven’t seen Dassin’s version, Irwin Winkler’s certainly didn’t deserve the much maligned reception it received.

Two-bit, incompetent lawyer Harry Fabian (Robert DeNiro) takes whatever unethical approach is required to defend his clients but when he finds himself involved in a lawsuit with a prize boxer, he develops and interest in the boxing world. In another of his get-rich-quick schemes he decides to stage his own boxing event but in doing so, he steps on the toes of the local mob boss and has to borrow money off everyone he knows to put his plan together.From the offset we overhear Sam the Sham’s Wooly Bully played out to the sidewalks of Manhattan as DeNiro’s Harry Fabian shuffles in and out of the busy commuters. It’s a brisk opening and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Fabian is a man that’s always on the move and by his own admission “I’m like a shark: I stop moving, I die”. He’s a very colourful character and it’s another one of DeNiro’s interestingly offbeat portrayals that’s not unlike his desperate hanger-on Rupert Pupkin from The King Of Comedy. Fabian is basically a no-good, shyster who ambulance chases his way to a living. He lacks scruples and a moral integrity and anyone that gets close to him, simply isn’t safe from his financial shenanigans. He really is a hard man to like but that’s all the more reason to single out DeNiro’s magnetic performance. As a viewer, you don’t trust this man as far as you could throw him but DeNiro still makes you care. Despite his faults, Fabian is still shown to have a modicum of decency and it’s a decency that DeNiro teases out of the role.

He’s not the only one on form, though, the entire supporting cast deliver very strong work; Jessica Lange’s ambitious but bored waitress, Cliff Gorman as her controlling and suspicious husband, the great Jack Warden as DeNiro’s business partner and Alan King as the local mobster “Boom Boom” who takes a strong disliking to Fabian. It’s an eclectic mix of personalities that make up this quintessential New York story as cinematographer Tak Fujimoto makes great use of locations to capture the flavour and vibrancy of the city itself.

All positives aside, though, this film seems to have came in for some very heavy criticism; there has been complaints about it’s tone, a muddled script, poor direction and badly judged performances but I really didn’t see it that way. DeNiro’s kinetic energy brings a very lively pace to the film and Irwin Winkler’s direction handles the pace more than admirably and employs the use of some impressive tracking shots along the way. Even these weren’t good enough for some, though, as he was criticised for trying too hard to be like Scorsese (who was originally onboard to direct before passing it on). I can accept that the ending of the film loses a little steam but, for the most part, Richard Price’s screenplay is filled with humour, sharp dialogue and three-dimensional characters. There’s not much more that’s required.An under the radar and vastly underrated slice of New York life that benefits greatly from, a rarely offscreen, DeNiro in one of his most enjoyable roles. Forget the critics, there’s much to recommend this and it’s a film that should be on every DeNiro fan’s list.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: This was the first of two films written by Richard Price that Martin Scorsese left the helm as director. The second film was Clockers in which Scorsese turned over the project to Spike Lee so he could instead direct Casino.

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33 Responses to “Night And The City”

  1. Was always curious about this De Niro vehicle. I, too, remember how critical most were with it back then. Kinda discouraged me from seeing it, especially after another tour de force performance in CAPE FEAR. Now you have me intrigued to look it up, Mark. Thanks for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s not many fans of this out there, Michael. It should be noted that I haven’t seen the original so I have nothing to compare it too. Maybe if I had, I might even be one of the critics. As it stands, though, I think it’s a great little film with a solid cast and a fabulous weasel like performance from Bob.
      Sure, it has it’s faults but they weren’t enough to spoil my enjoyment.
      Thanks for stopping by, my friend. I hope you do check it out! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good stuff Mark. I remember watching the original version last year and enjoying its noir-ish underbelly, but thinking about it now I’m struggling to recall much of what happened, which can’t be a good sign. Haven’t seen this remake, had no idea there was one starring De Niro!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like this is well worth the watch. Great work as always Mark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s worth a go, Zoe. Many would disagree with me though. It’s ratings on rotten tomatoes and IMDb are pretty woeful but I honestly think they’re far too harsh and don’t fully reflect what the film has to offer.
      You know how much I love DeNiro and maybe that’s what’s swaying my opinion but I genuinely think this is one of his most vastly underrated films (and performances).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Even this, not deemed to be ‘classic’ DeNiro is still a great movie isn’t it? He still had it going on in the ’80s!

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    • You can’t imagine how happy I am to hear that, man. It’s always good to come across someone who’s actually given it any attention. And it’s even better to hear that I’m not alone in liking. It’s great film and DeNiro is outstanding. It’s very saddening to hear that so many people overlooked this. Cheers Mark! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy how you bring movies that have gone under the radar to everyone’s attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have never seen this picture but DeNiro’s inclusion has me curious. Your description of “vastly underrated” is enough to spur me to seeing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yet another De Niro movie I need to see! You seem to be the man to ask, what should I watch? I’ve seen Taxi Driver and a few others, but nowhere near enough

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shit man! DeNiro has many great films to his name. It’s hard to mention them all but his work with Scorsese is a must – Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, The King of Comedy. You also can’t overlook The Deer Hunter, his devilish turn in Angel Heart or the fabulous action comedy Midnight Run. My personal favourite though is the epic Once Upon a Time in America. It demands patience but is still the best crime movie ever made.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] wrote about the De Niro flick Night and the City, a great post that reminded me how few films of De Niro I have seen. It is truly […]

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  9. I need to get to this, pretty sure I own the dvd somewhere but might have to search online and find a copy. Thought I’d seen it but probably so long ago I’ve forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

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