Pinned between expressionist symbolism and fraught authenticity, all three of these desperate post-war docu-noir flicks are cut violently from the same cloth. Opening with a daylight jewel heist, Kiss Of Death slowly fades to black as Victor Mature’s crim-turned-stoolie pitches towards a midnight date with destiny. Enter Richard Widmark in a startling Oscar-nommed debut as chuckling psycho-boy Tommy Udo. The film’s commentary (by noir historians James Ursini and Alain Silver) certainly perks up when Widmark sends a wheelchair-bound old lady crashing down a flight of stairs.
There are more hard hits in Cry Of The City, as childhood friends turned homicide cop (Mature again) and ruthless cop-killer (Richard Conte) go head-to-head on New York’s ghetto streets. Robert Siodmak paints cruel poetry with a rain-spattered urban blanket of corruption, betrayal and honking traffic.
But best – and angstiest – of the bunch is Night And The City (remade, loosely, in 1992 with De Niro). Lost in crooked gangland London, small-time hustler Widmark finds himself caught in a hopeless tailspin. After a Mob row explodes into a face-smashing, rib-cracking wrestling match, Widmark’s lonely shmuck is hunted down for a truly doomy finale. Director Jules Dassin pops up on the DVD in fresh and retro interviews, along with a featurette about the longer Brit version (also included) and film scholar Glenn Erickson’s pithy commentary.