Hired by crooked fruit-and-vegetable dealer Lee J. Cobb to distract Conte, she instead falls in love with him, and awakens him to the stirrings of his own authentic self. Conte, with his wounded eyes, and Cortesa, with her fervid ones, make a combustible team. They explode the parameters of social melodrama and film noir, and turn this expose into a steamy existential romance.
Dassin followed it with a career high for both himself and Richard Widmark (who died last week, at 93): Night and the City, a hard-boiled fable about warped imagination and ambition, which he made in London with an English crew and an Anglo-American cast. Widmark played Harry Fabian, a hustler turned wrestling promoter. This star's genius for portraying avidity and anxiety and this director's eye for the glare and shadows of a city at night brought London's back alleys, clip joints and arenas alive in an electric, phantasmagoric way. One character describes Fabian as "an artist without an art," and explains that "it could make a man very unhappy ... groping for the right level, the means with which to express himself."