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Thursday July 18th 2024

Night And The City | 1950

The Naked City film location: Goodwin's Court, London WC2
The Naked City film location: entrance to 'The Silver Fox' nightclub: Goodwin's Court, London WC2

Jules Dassin’s compelling film noir uses plenty of real locations around London and gives a fascinating view of the post-war city.

Hollywood director Dassin made effective use of real New York locations in 1948’s The Naked City and now did the same for London.

Night And The City was the last Hollywood film from Dassin who, while he was making this film in the UK, learned he’s been blacklisted as a former member of the Communist Party. Relocating to Europe, he went on to invent the heist movie genre in 1955 with the brilliantly tense Rififi.

The film’s expressionist style is set with the striking overhead shot of small-time hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) fleeing an unseen pursuer past the dramatically illuminated front of St Paul’s Cathedral at Ludgate Hill, EC4, and across the surrounding wasteland of rubble left from WWII bombing.

He's heading to the flat of his long-suffering girlfriend Mary (Gene Tierney), up to his neck as usual in debt but always with one more great money-making scheme up his sleeve.

Mary’s flat stands in the old narrow streets which once stood between Dean Street and Wardour Street in Soho. Here you can see the rear of the old 'Shaw and Kilburn' automobile showroom, with the sign ‘Entrance 78 Dean Street’. The whole area has been completely redeveloped and there’s nothing left to see.

The Naked City film location: St Martins Lane, London WC2
The Naked City film location: Harry Fabian heads to 'The Silver Fox' nightclub: St Martins Lane, London WC2

Having borrowed a few pounds, Harry heads off to the ’Silver Fox’ nightclub in the West End. He crosses St Martins Lane, just about in front of the Salisbury pub, with the rotating globe of the London Coliseum Theatre in the background, and ducks into the small and easily-missed entrance to Goodwin’s Court opposite.

That little entrance is still there and, amazingly, the narrow alleyway remains almost unchanged, apart from all those neon signs which were added for the film.

The entrance to the fictitious ‘Silver Fox’ is on the northside, at the far end of Goodwin’s Court toward Bedfordbury – you can see the sign for Bedfordbury over the archway to the street.

Notice how the lower part of the wall for the ‘nightclub’ has been built out for the film to allow the basement dive bar to have illuminated windows (necessary for the plot).

You might recognise the wonderful old bow-fronted windows opposite the club. You can see them in 2019's Mary Poppins Returns. The is the passageway Mary, Jack and the kids take to get the Doulton bowl mended at ‘Topotrepolovsky’s Fix-it’ shop. The tiny door was built just beneath that Bedfordbury sign.

The convincingly seedy club is run by Nosseross (Francis L Sullivan) with his wife Helen (Googie Withers) selling overpriced booze and chocolates, and Harry acting as a tout to drum up business.

The Naked City film location: Leicester Square, London WC2
The Naked City film location: the three businessmen roll up in a cab (site of the Hotel de l'Europe): Leicester Square, London WC2

Harry’s soon up to his tricks in Leicester Square, where we see the front of the old Café de l’Europe, a glam nightspot still recognisable on the northeast corner, though transformed into a Lebanese restaurant.

Three Chicago businessmen roll up in a cab looking for a bit of entertainment and pile into the nearby Café Anglais American Bar. Though the club is long gone, the cast-iron frontage is unmistakable. It was until recently Chiquito’s Mexican restaurant, 20-21 Leicester Square, but for the moment, that too seems to have closed.

The Naked City film location: 20-21 Leicester Square, London WC2
The Naked City film location: site of the old Cafe Anglais American Bar: 20-21 Leicester Square, London WC2

The place has a bit of history. Before becoming the Café Anglais, the premises housed the famous Cafe Cavour, an upscale bar-hotel, catering to a theatrically gay clientele.

Easily manipulated by Harry’s shtick, the three gullible stooges are soon heading off to sample the delights of the ‘Silver Fox’.

Harry gets by, skipping from one failed venture to another, until he decides to muscle into the world of professional wrestling and finds himself fatally out of his depth.

When he sets up office, the ‘Fabian Promotions’ sign goes up on Great Windmill Street, just north of Piccadilly Circus and Shaftesbury Avenue. Alongside the premises, you can see the neon frontage of the Cameo Moulin Cinema, which stood at 44 Great Windmill Street, until it closed in 1990.

This whole section of the street has been redeveloped but in the background you can recognise the lights of the Trocadero and the rear of the London Pavilion cinema (now incorporated into the Trocadero complex), which is showing 1947's Escape Me Never, with Errol Flynn, Ida Lupino and Eleanor Parker.

As Harry builds up his business, the frustrated Helen also has plans, to open up her own club. Needing a drinks license, she turns to Harry, which proves not such a great idea. Pocketing her cash, he provides her with a forged licence which he hands over to her outside the ‘court’. This is no more than the Westminster Bridge entrance to the old County Hall on the South Bank.

County Hall was home to the GLC (Greater London Council) until this was abolished by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986. Today the building, featured in the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, houses an array of businesses and tourist attractions, including the London Sea Life Aquarium (featured in Mike Nichols' Closer). The London Eye is next to County Hall, and its visitor centre is inside the building. At the foot of Westminster Bridge nearby, a flight of steps leads down to the little security booth which masqueraded as the entrance to MI6 in 2002 Bond movie Die Another Day.

As his plans begin to unravel, Harry meets with Nosseross by the bronze lions at the foot of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, but the news isn’t good.

Desperate, Harry sets up Mary by luring out of her flat so he can steal the money he needs. She’s hailing a cab on Dean Street at Richmond Buildings where she’s tipped off by neighbour Adam (Hugh Marlowe). This is another area that’s been redeveloped, though you can still recognise the turret of what is now the Pizza Express Jazz Club on the corner of Carlisle Street.

Powerful rival promoter Kristo (Herbert Lom) puts out a hit on Harry, who has to make a hasty exit out of his gym. He’s followed by one of Kristo’s heavies, in the car, along Great Windmill Street to Piccadilly Circus, past such landmarks as the Criterion and the old Swann and Edgar department store.

Looking for help, Harry finds himself on the South Bank alongside Waterloo Bridge, which was then still an area of post-war devastation. He briefly hides in a monumental brick chimney, housing a spiral staircase, where he sees off one of the men pursuing him.

This is the old Shot Tower built for the Lambeth Lead Works in 1826. It is indeed an industrial chimney but, rather than emit smoke, it was used to drip molten lead which cooled as it fell to form perfect little spheres to be used in gun cartridges.

Sadly, this fascinating structure was demolished after the 1951 Festival of Britain to make way for the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

On the Thames Embankment at the foot of Lambeth Bridge, Harry hitches a ride on a United Dairies truck, which takes him west to Hammersmith. Exhausted, he just wants to rest on the barge on the Thames, owned by Anna O’Leary, alongside Hammersmith Bridge.

It’s clear there’s no escaping his fate as Kristo and his men appear on the Bridge.

As Mary slumps in the doorway of the Blue Anchor pub on Lower Mall, Harry meets his end on the riverfront at the foot of the bridge.