Night and the City: Rough Cut

I get a lot of fan mail. People who contact me because they like my books, or my looks, or my feet. I don’t have time to answer all of them, but it’s a nice little pick-me-up when I’m having a shitty day. That’s usually as far as it goes.

The other day I was contacted by a fan named James Hahn who works as a nitrate film curator at the academy film archive. He mentioned that one of his recent projects was the restoration of  NIGHT AND THE CITY, my favorite film of all time.

We started chatting about it, about the differences between the British and the American cuts. He told me that when he was gathering the original elements, he discovered a third, even longer print that combined scenes from both the US and UK version and included a totally unique beginning and ending. He figured it was some kind of pre-release rough cut. If that was the case, it’s fair to say that this mysterious print had never been screened for a public audience and had probably only been viewed by Zanuck, Dassin and maybe a couple of other execs.

Needless to say, I had to find a way to see it. I’d seen the UK version when it screened at the Film Noir Festival and I’ve watched the US version more times than I can count, but this was something totally new that I’d never even heard of. The first person I thought to contact was Noir City Kingpin Eddie Muller. I figured maybe I could pitch him an article for the Sentinel about this lost third version and then get access to the archive because I was writing about the film. Muller was so jazzed to hear about this lost print that he wanted to be in on the screening. Next thing I knew we were set up for a viewing. In like Flynn.

We would have to watch the film on a flatbed viewer rather than in an actual theater, but we would have Hahn right there with us to change reels and talk us through some of the differences. To be honest, that was actually way cooler for me. I’m sure that sort of thing is old hat for a guy like Muller, but this would be the first time I’d ever even seen a flatbed viewer. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring, watching the actual film winding through the machine right in front of you.

I hope to go back for round 2, take copious notes and actually write that article for The Noir City Sentinel, so I won’t give away every single detail and difference, but I will mention one or two key things. Just to whet your appetite.

For starters, the big difference is the unique bookend scenes that open and close the film. Instead of opening on Fabian running through the streets, the first thing you see is two dock watchmen greeting each other at the change of shift. They have a short exchange of dialog, something like “What’s new, Joe?” “Nothing ever changes around here.” Then at the end, we see the two watchmen again, only the night man is going off and the day man coming on. They have what amounts to the same dialog, only in reverse. The point being that everything that happened to Fabian over the course of the film amounts to nothing in the bigger scheme of things. That nothing ever changes in the big bad city. I can see what they were going for there, but cutting those scenes was clearly the right thing to do. It’s so much punchier to go right to Fabian running. That’s what sets the tone for the whole movie, for Fabian’s whole life really. Always running.

The rest of the cut is a strange mix of scenes from both versions. For example, the scene with Nosseross and Helen where he gives her the fox stole contains both the longer conversation from the UK version and the kissing scene from the US version all in one long take.

There were also lots of scenes that were just slightly longer, with only one or two extra lines. Plus, there’s a lot more of Hugh Marlowe as Gene Tierney’s artist neighbor in the bad corduroy jacket. Including a bit where he shows up at the end to comfort Tierney, which I especially disliked.

The big win for me was the extended wrestling sequence between Gregorius and The Strangler. (More shirtless Mazurki? Be still my heart!)

In both the US and UK versions, I always thought it seemed a bit unrealistic that Gregorius the Great would drop dead after what amounted to a shorter than average match. But man, when you watch that extended sequence, the beating he takes from the Strangler is absolutely brutal. And what makes it even nastier is that there’s no music. It’s just grunting and body-blows and the slap of flesh on canvas. Again, I see why they cut it down, because it does slow the pace when you look at the big picture, but I can die happy having watched that scene in all it’s uncut, ugly glory.

I’m not a hardcore film scholar or anything like that, I’m just a fan. I can’t even imagine how I got so lucky, but I’m absolutely thrilled to have had a chance to see even more of my favorite film. Thanks again to James Hahn, May Haduong and everyone else at the archive who helped make this unique and unforgettable experience possible. Who says there are no happy endings in Noir City?

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