In thinking about Jules Dassin’s 1950 work of film noir Night and the City in relation to the same-named 1938 novel by Gerald Kersh, one striking thing to consider is the fact that Dassin said he never read the book. He apparently fully relied on the screenplay of Jo Eisinger, and his own cinematic vision, to guide him as he took the story and adapted it to the big screen. Was Dassin just too busy to pore over Kersh’s novel, did he not want to get distracted from the tale as it read in the screenplay, or was there some other reason why he chose to not read the book? I don’t know, but the differences between book and film are interesting.
The first thing to establish – and not that many reading this likely need to be told as much – is that both Kersh’s novel and Dassin’s film are superb. Both are influential works of noir that take an unflinching look at a panorama of seedy characters in hardboiled situations. Any lover of edgy crime stories, and/or powerful works of social realism, needs to experience both versions of the tale. Ok, so that’s settled. Now let’s get on with a close look at how the two compare.
Both film and novel are set in London. And both concern a motley crew of hardened characters who are struggling in a joylessly desperate moneyed environment. Primarily occurring in nightclubs and professional wrestling environments, the tale depicts a host of hard-up men and women who are out to make a pound any way they can, within a seemingly hopeless (sewer) rat race. Nearly every person in the story seems to be in a constant state of looking at other people and wondering how many quid they might have on them, and what they might be able to do to get some of that dough. Things like morals and decency to your fellow man and woman get tossed in the gutter like yesterday’s betting sheet, and all in the name of the mighty pound.