The Naked City (1948)

Directed by Jules Dassin
Cinematography William H. Daniels

New York City film noir about two detectives investigating the death of an attractive young woman. The apparent suicide turns out to be murder.

Mystery Deepens In Dexter Slaying.

8 April 2010 | by Spikeopath (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Tho a fine crime story in essence, and with undoubted superlative location work from Academy Award winning photographer William H. Daniels, The Naked City just doesn’t add up to a great movie whole. The story follows a police procedural pattern as Barry Fitzgerald’s Lt. Dan Muldoon and his wet behind the ears side-kick Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) try to crack the case of a murdered blonde playgirl. With no clues, the pair run down a number of blind alleys chasing weak leads. Can they crack the case? Will young Halloran be able to learn the wily ways of the experienced New York Cop before it’s too late?

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Perhaps it’s the reputation that did it down for this first time viewer? Or maybe the ream of imitations that followed it have put the film so high on a pedestal it’s now impossible to achieve expectation levels? Maybe yes to both, but I found it to be very ordinary and bogged down by a too talky core that’s executed poorly by a host of mundane acting performances. Fitzgerald hams it for all he is worth, with is comedy moments severely misplaced, while Taylor is out acted by a door. The rest I can’t bare to talk about. The one saving grace is Ted de Corsia’s villain, a nasty piece of work that gets a nice line in desperation/mania from Corsia.

No doubt about it, Daniels’ work, de Corsia and a thrilling last ten minutes, stopped this from hitting the below average mark from this disillusioned observer. 5/10

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A Turning Point In Film Noir

7/10
Author: gftbiloxi (gftbiloxi@yahoo.com) from Biloxi, Mississippi
31 March 2005

There are two styles of Film Noir. Fueled by writers like James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, the first style emerged in the 1940s and was characterized by a cynical, often witty tone; anti-heroes, dangerous women, and assorted criminal elements; and complex plots that emphasized betrayal and moral ambiguity. It was also photographed in a remarkable visual style that combined glossy production values with atmospheric emphasis on light and shadow–and films like THE MALTESE FALCON, THIS GUN FOR HIRE, MILDRED PIERCE, THE BLUE DAHLIA, and DOUBLE INDEMNITY remain great classics of their kind.

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But after World War II public taste began to change. Things that could only be hinted at in earlier films could now be more directly stated, and as audiences clamored for a more gritty realism the glossy sophistication of 1940s Noir fell out of fashion. The result was a new style of Noir–photographed in a grainier way, more direct, more brutal, and even less sympathetic to its characters. And the 1948 THE NAKED CITY was among the first to turn the tide. The sophisticated gumshoe, slinky gun moll, and glossy production values were gone; this film felt more like something you might read in a particularly lurid “true detective” tabloid.

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In an era when most films were shot on Hollywood backlots, THE NAKED CITY was actually filmed in New York–and while filmmakers could film with hidden cameras sound technology of the day posed a problem. But producer Mark Hellinger turned the problem into an asset: the film would be narrated, adding to the documentary-like style of the cinematography and story. (Hellinger performed the narrative himself, and his sharp delivery is extremely effective.) The story itself reads very much like a police report, following NYPD detectives as they seek to solve a dress model’s murder.

For 1948 it was innovative stuff-but like many innovative films it falters a bit in comparison to later films that improved upon the idea. The direct nature of the plot feels slightly too direct, slightly too simple. The same is true of the performances, which have a slightly flat feel, and although Barry Fitzgerald gives a sterling performance he is very much a Hollywood actor whose style seems slightly out of step alongside the deadpan style of the overall cast. Even so, the pace and drive of the film have tremendous interest, and while you might find yourself criticizing certain aspects you’ll still be locked into the movie right to the very end. Particularly recommended for Film Noir addicts, who will be fascinated to see the turning point in the style.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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Taut, tense semi-documentary style with great location shooting in New York City…

8/10
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
11 October 2006

THE NAKED CITY is like watching a time capsule unfold of New York City in the late ’40s–the cars, the subways, the bridges, the people bustling along busy streets totally unaware of filming (scenes were shot from cars with tinted windows and two-way mirrors), and at the center of it all is a rather routine detective story. But the difference is the style that director Jules Dassin gets out of his material, giving the drama a chance to build up the proper tension before the final shootout on city streets and bridges.

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BARRY FITZGERALD is the detective with the very helpful sidekick DON TAYLOR, a young police officer from Queens who helps him track down the man responsible for the death of a pretty blonde in what the tabloids called “The Bathtub Murder”. Both men are excellent as they follow a batch of clues to get to the bottom of the crime. HOWARD DUFF is also excellent as a man mixed up in the robberies, with DOROTHY HART as his unsuspecting sweetheart.

TED DeCORSIA, making his film debut, is the athletic villain, working out in his small apartment when detective Taylor finds him–but soon making his escape which leads to the film’s most breathtaking moments of a dazzling chase that fills the last ten minutes with high tension suspense.

The crime itself is not that interesting, but the style used to tell the tale (with a voice-over narration telling us at the conclusion that this is just one story in a city of millions) is what makes it far superior to most detective stories. That and the fact that New York City is given the spotlight for location photography that really hits the mark.

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