Naked City, The (1948)

“Yesterday, Jean Dexter was just another pretty girl. But now she’s the marmalade on a hundred thousand pieces of toast.”

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Synopsis:
A detective (Barry Fitzgerald) and his assistant (Don Taylor) search for clues related to the murder of a model whose lying boyfriend (Howard Duff) is engaged to her co-worker (Dorothy Hart).

Genres:

Review:
Jules Dassin‘s documentary-style police procedural is notable as the first major Hollywood film shot in New York City streets and locales. There are some surprisingly gritty scenes — including the initial murder of the model, shown briefly but graphically during an opening montage of NYC at 1:00 in the morning, and the final confrontation with one of the killers — but the film itself suffers from the same syndrome as Undercover Man (1949), with too much pedantic emphasis placed on giving viewers the “inside scoop” on how law enforcement does its grueling work. Journalist-producer Mark Hellinger provides an overly earnest voice-over, with lines such as these:

The 10th precinct station is in the Chelsea district of New York, a rather shabby building on a rather shabby street. Acts of violence in Manhattan are reported to the third floor of this building, because, here, rather quietly, the homicide squad does its work.

(Be sure to check out TCM’s article for fascinating background info on Hellinger, who was apparently quite a character.) Barry Fitzgerald and Don Taylor are far too straight-out-of-Hollywood as the detective duo assigned to investigate the murder, and Howard Duff is pretty bland as the key player in the intrigue. The true power of this flick lies in its many shots of New York City in the late 1940s; to that end, it serves as an invaluable cinematic time capsule.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine use of authentic NYC locales
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  • Atmospheric cinematography by Oscar-nominated William H. Daniels
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  • Ted de Corsia as Willy Garzah
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Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book. Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2007 by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

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One Response to “Naked City, The (1948)”

  1. A once-must, for Dassin’s splendid direction.

    A few key points in the assessment are well taken, esp. regarding the overall tone as a procedural (some of Hellinger’s voice-over is a bit much). Still, the general overview of the ‘character’ of the entire city allows for a number of interesting, brief vignettes that add flavor to the story.

    And the story seems better for that flavor. Surprisingly, as it turns out, the details of the actual crime are more mundane than one might expect (though there is more than a fair amount of snappy dialogue to keep scenes afloat). But it’s understood that the crime itself is not the focus – the procedure is.

    I’m not all that bothered by any of the performances – they serve their purpose, given the type of film that it is.

    But I do find Dassin’s handling of the film impressive – even if it’s not one of his best films, it’s not at all sloppy direction, it’s very tight. He reveals a good eye for presenting the story visually – and, yes, that thrilling conclusion (alone) is masterful.

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