Dark City is a pretty run-of-the-mill film noir. It’s probably most notable for being the first film to star Charlton Heston. Heston had served in World War II, which took up a good chunk of his early life, after which he started doing some theatre in New York. People took notice of him due to his part in a televised version of Marc Antony, a role he later played twice on film. Hal B. Wallis, a major film producer at the time (and essentially the guy who saved Humphrey Bogart’s career), saw Heston in a TV production of Wuthering Heights, and after that his star then rose quickly.
Heston kind of lucked into working at the tail end of the film noir era, also starring in Touch of Evil, one of the best films ever made (although in a part that a white actor would never get these days without being called out for cultural appropriation). He also famously resigned from Actor’s Equity due to the controversy about a white actor playing a Eurasian role in the still-unmade film version of Miss Saigon.
In Dark City, Heston plays Danny Haley, a young gambler who’s also a war vet. There’s a card game, and they rip off an out-of-town sucker for his money. The man then commits suicide, and as the story progresses it seems like someone is trying to knock off everyone in the game. Haley, who was part of the game, becomes increasingly paranoid.
The plot is OK, but it’s let down by a script that’s not very good. The dialogue isn’t that memorable, and the visuals are what you would expect from a decent noir but nothing amazing. There were a bunch of screenwriters involved, with John Meredyth Lucas at the top, who is best known for his involvement with Star Trek, where he was a screenwriter and producer of several episodes. Also interesting is Laurence B. Marcus, who worked on The Stunt Man, Petulia and Witness for the Prosecution. Dark City was only Marcus’s second screenplay, and was based on a short story he wrote.
Heston is fine, and you can see why he became a big star—he was a solid actor when given a workable script. Other actors of note include two who were later connected with the series Dragnet: Jack Webb (from the original ‘50s version) and Harry Morgan, who appeared in the ‘60s revival.
The director, William Dieterle, was unofficially blacklisted, or “greylisted,” later on due to making an anti-Fascist film about the Spanish Civil War (Blockade) many years previously. Dieterle also did The Devil and Daniel Webster, a well-received version of Midsummer Night’s Dream (which Kenneth Anger claims to have appeared in as the Changeling Prince, though others dispute it) and The Life of Emile Zola. Perhaps his most famous film was the Charles Laughton version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His past reputation ensured that he still got some work, but the greylisting caused a decline in his career. After Dark City, he did another noir, Turning Pont, the Rita Hayworth version of Salome, and a few more. And like many other directors, Dieterle moved into TV, and even returned to Germany to work.
In all, Dark City is a decent noir that moves along at a reasonable pace. It’s enjoyable, with a nice paranoid aspect to it, but it’s certainly no classic of the genre: not an A movie, but a pretty good B.
The disc includes a commentary by writer/historian/film programmer Alan K. Rode, a new film appreciation by Philip Kemp, the trailer and an image gallery. The first pressing includes a booklet by Barry Forshaw.