This classic film noir follows former war hero Danny Haley (Charlton Heston) as he and his gang of small-time criminals initially appear to con yet another mark, a fellow war veteran from Los Angeles named Arthur Winant (Don DeFore), out of $5000 in a rigged poker game. However, when members of Danny’s gang begin to turn up dead, supposedly at the hands of Arthur’s unstable older brother Sidney (Mike Mazurki), Danny finds that no matter what he does, he must suffer the consequences for his actions…
Hollywood veteran Dieterle, most famous for directing the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton, provides the film with a steadily intensifying pace as Danny tries to find Sidney as he gradually closes in on the rest of his gang. Dieterle in particular effectively conveys Danny’s growing desperation in a number of ways. The most striking example comes in an early sequence where Danny is listening to his lover Fran (Lizabeth Scott) perform in a nightclub, the camera cutting to various faces of other men in the audience who might be Sidney.
The overall mood of the film is helped by the strength of the ensemble performances, with Dean Jagger as the suspicious police captain who clashes with Danny and Jack Webb (later to become famous on the other side of the law in the long-running television series Dragnet) playing against type as the nervy and ruthless gang member Augie.
However, it is Heston who impresses the most, with the then twenty-six year old newcomer to film (this was only his second film role) essaying Danny’s initial swaggering self-assurance and his latter moments of vulnerability with the ease of a seasoned professional. It’s easy to see how he would go on to become an established part of Hollywood for over fifty years on the basis of this performance alone.
Dark City is an often-overlooked noir, yet its consistent level of tension and strong performances, particularly from Heston, mark it out as a solidly-gripping thriller that will hopefully be rediscovered thanks to this new Blu-Ray release from Arrow Academy, which provides excellent picture and sound quality.
Available on Blu-ray now