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Jim Sherlock's DVD Recommendations of the Week

Jim Sherlock
October 9, 2009

A TRIBUTE TO JULES DASSIN

FILMS: BRUTE FORCE (PG) ****1/2
            THE NAKED CITY (PG) ****
            NIGHT AND THE CITY (PG) ****

Genre: Film-Noir/Drama/Thriller/Crime.

Of all the new DVD releases this week I couldn’t go past these three gems from one of cinemas most prolific, respected and influential filmmakers, Jules Dassin.

Before being blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Cold War paranoia of the McCarthy Hollywood witch hunt in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, legendary director Jules Dassin made a series of hard-hitting Film-Noir classics that have been a major influence on filmmakers since, including Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino, and countless more, and now three of his outstanding classics have been released on DVD for the first time.

The first is the 1947 prison drama Brute Force, starring Burt Lancaster, hot from his critically acclaimed performance in Ernest Hemingway’s 1946 classic The Killers, along with Yvonne De Carlo and Hume Cronyn. This story of penitentiary life and a hard-hitting prisoner who plans to rebel against a power-hungry chief guard is as sharp as a piece of broken glass and as tough and cold as a sledgehammer against a block of ice. Dassin’s tight direction and the compelling performances of Burt Lancaster as the time-worn prisoner and Hume Cronyn as sadistic guard make this tension filled character study of two desperate men an explosive nail-biting thriller.           
    
Hot off the critical and box-office success of Brute Force, Jules Dassin then set his sights and cameras on this thrilling and [then] groundbreaking semi-documentary crime portrait on the streets of New York and its people with The Naked City, with Barry Fitzgerald and Howard Duff. This dark Oscar winning 1948 thriller is as influenced by European the neo-realistic films of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, among others, as American pulp fiction from which it draws its cold gauzy breath. It’s New York that is the real star here, but sadly, as classic noir diminishes by the day into pop culture cinema, The Naked City remains the benchmark of American naturalism through the lens, a mirror, from the lowest gutter to the highest skyscraper, of a time and a city when cold blooded fear and unrelenting desire ruled too few screens with an iron fist.

In this final classic Film-Noir release this week from director Jules Dassin, screen legend Richard Widmark portrays an American hustler with a world of ambitious plans that never seem to work out in the 1950 drama Night and the City. Also starring Gene Tierney and Herbert Lom, Dassin took his cameras away from prison conflicts and the streets of New York and set them up in the seedy underbelly of life and the streets of London, and was as much at home here as anywhere he had been before. Yet again, this is another compelling study of low life and high stakes, and another of the director’s most accomplished and crowning achievements of the genre. Night and the City was remade in 1992 with Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange, but lacks the intense drive, brooding darkness and knife-edged sharpness of the original.

Once he was blacklisted, Jules Dassin fled the United States in 1952 to live and work in Europe where he continued to achieve great success with such classics as the heist-crime masterpieces Rififi and Topkapi, starring Peter Ustinov in his Oscar winning role, and never returned to the United States.

Jules Dassin died in March of 2008, but he left behind is a legacy of classic films that will continue to enthral audiences and influence filmmakers for many decades to come.  

DVD COMPETITION:

Last week I reviewed DVD release of the highly acclaimed and controversial multi-award-winning gangster epic, GOMORRAH.

You now have a chance to win a DVD of this searing crime thriller with the compliments of 3AW and Madman Home Entertainment, and all you have to do is be the first correct answer to the following question to win the DVD of Gomorrah.

Question: Pictured here is an image from one of the great classic 1960’s European gangster thrillers of all time, what is the name of the film?


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