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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Harry Fabian’s Carnation


Director Jules Dassin used a white boutonniere to reveal Harry Fabian, the dapper, desperate protagonist of his 1950 film Night and the City.


imageHarry Fabian (Richard Widmark) with his gentlemanly white carnation prepares to run a scam at the Cafe Anglais

Night and the City gets pegged as film noir. Yes, there are fedoras and grime, lots of cigarette smoke, a shady lady, and mean streets (London’s). But Jules Dassin’s 1950 film shocked us out of all those “she done him wrong” expectations. Scenes are too peculiar and the characters too diverse, original and vivid to fit any genre.

“Character study,” we think, comes closest: the movie is the most accurate depiction we’ve ever seen of the compulsive gambler. There are no suspenseful card games a la The Cincinnati Kid,  no plots around the match-up of rivals as in The Hustler, or Karate-Kid-style relationships, like the Paul Newman/Tom Cruise pairing of The Color of Money. Dassin understands that gambling addiction isn’t a function of money, games of chance or skill—it’s a head trip.

Richard Widmark gives us the crazy truth: his Harry Fabian lives, like all gambling addicts, in a dreamworld of his own doomed schemes. Over-the-top? We don’t think so. Widmark’s childishness and fever, eyes bugged out with sleeplessness, are real. This is what gamblers look and sound like, when hostage to their own ambition (or is it lack of ambition?).

Harry’s unable to see himself or anyone else because he’s always looking for angles, calculating the next shortcut to nowhere. In the film, his every failure hatches a new, more grandiose fantasy of success—it’s just that Harry needs money to get his sure-bets off the ground. He comes on like a big shot but is always on the mooch – begging a crime boss to stake him, stealing money from his girlfriend’s purse, even helping himself to another boutonniere from the street vendor. “Put it on my account!” Harry calls out, swaggering into a nightclub.


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Posted by Julie on 03/27 at 02:27 PM
Art & MediaPermalink