The Best There Ever Was
Night and the City is the pinnacle of Film Noir. In its infancy the genre took the hardboiled detective genre and plastered it on the silver screen and embellished it with chiaroscuro imagery and precarious camera angles. The Maltese Falcon, as great a film as it is, is not the definitive film noir. It is but a child of what would come to be.
If the “Black Bird” is the toddler of the genre, then Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” is Film Noir come-of-age. It is the fulcrum that teetered Noir in the direction of a definitive genre. I’ve never heard a better definition than a comparison once posited on the Internet somewhere (apologies that I cannot provide proper credit):
Hard-boiled = Tough
Noir = Screwed
To add my own spin on it, Film Noir features a protagonist dropped into a downward spiraling labyrinth (usually of his own doing) lined with razor blades, and with no escape.
Back to Night and the City. The story of Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), a low-level grifter with dreams of making it big, and his attempt to con his way into London’s professional wrestling scene. Like any good noir, the beauty is knowing that Harry’s plans and actions are all doomed (how could they not be?). But watching Harry’s descent down that downward spiral, as every turn just makes things worse… until, finally, Harry’s realization that he is done/screwed/doomed -> noir, this is the beauty of the film. The fascinating aspect of Noir.
The clip below could be a short film noir. It defines the genre perfectly: