Well, this is for sure one of the coolest films I discovered in 2017. I was also discovering Gerald Kersh's writing at this time, and I read that there was a film based on his novel of the same name (which I still haven't read, incidentally), that some people considered a classic of noir. I expected good things, but the film in fact surpassed my expectations.
Harry Fabian. Wow, you could talk quite a bit about a guy like this, and you probably know someone a bit like him. He's really bad news, yet somehow manages to be strangely, almost, likable despite himself. Maybe much of this is down to Richard Widmark's portrayal, which is manic and infectious, like that of an intense and earnest salesman, one who might surprise you sometimes by bursting into a silly song and hopping around with completely un-self-conscious glee. Apparently the book harry is nastier, but the thing is, when you get to the bottom of Widmark-Harry's schemes, he is really a rotten bastard and you know you should hate him for being such a user of people and an abuser of trust. Yet somehow, I think, you can't quite bring yourself to despise him as much as he obviously deserves, and I think that's interesting. Harry is always looking for the "next big thing", so he can get "in on the deal". He's full of big ideas. Most of them are total bullshit, but a guy like harry might just be able to string people along for long enough to get away with it, right under their noses, so to speak. You have to think, too, that the guy is probably kind of insane. There's that scene where Harry comes breathlessly into Mr. Nosseros's place, saying, "I'll control wrestling!", and Nosseros finds this so deleeriously crazy and amusing that he explodes with laughter right in Harry's face, and can't stop. Harry though -- he just keeps on talking, raising his voice to combat being laughed at, until he's shrieking! It's wild.
So Harry is at the centre of all this, but there are actually a whole load of great, memorable characters in this thing. The fat, jovial and fiendish Mr. nosseros, for instance; his scheming, frustrated wife Helen; and, of course, the unforgettable Gregorius, played by real-life wrestling champion Stanislaus Zbyszko. Now, I like to imagine kersh was pleased with this movie (even though they apparently have changed quite a few things), and one of the reasons is Zbyszko's involvement. I like to think, as a fan of wrestling himself, he would have been chuffed that the old guy ended up in one of his stories. Well, Stanislaus Zbyszko supposedly never acted before, but he nailed this, utterly. His character is both tragic and extremely sympathetic; his death absolutely one of the most poignant things about this film, and the moment that marks Harry's going over the line and beyond redemption.
Speaking of wrestling ... The Scene. If this kind of film isn't really your thing, I guess this one scene of Gregorius and "The Strangler" having it out is going to be the thing that'll stick in your mind. It's a hell of a scene, really, and goes on for several minutes. It's all done completely without music, and you can hear every grunt and smash, see every detail and almost *feel* the power of the struggle. It's incredibly visceral, I think, for an English/American film of 1950.
Another interesting facet of this classic is that there are two versions. The American cut seems better in most respects, but i think the British one has superior music, and it also includes a great early domestic scene between Widmark and Gene Tierney that is rendered a perfunctory nothing in the American cut (actually it's a completely different scene). There's an informative documentary that comes on the DVD which explains a lot of detail about the two versions and how they differ. I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff, for some reason.
The casting is of course great, and I haven't even mentioned some of the highlights of that aspect of the film. Only trouble is, a few of these people are dreadfully underused. I personally wouldn't have minded if the film were half an hour longer, but that's probably because I appreciate the world and characters of its creation so much. Besides, I can't really think the film would have been drastically improved by giving Gene more to do, for instance. Another thing I have to note is that there are probably a few too many Americans in the cast. Nothing's really wrong with that, of course, but the film is supposed to take place in (and indeed was shot in) England, and the juxtaposition of notable English performers with less-experienced American ones putting on an accent is a bit obvious. Don't worry though; Widmark just talks like Widmark and doesn't try to sound like a Brit.