Day 345-- the Naked City (1948)

"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

The Naked City was a groundbreaking film. Not only was it one of the first films shot entirely on location, but it also was a fairly realistic and frank homicide procedural. Jules Dassin's direction is--as usual--peerless, but while the film is good overall, it doesn't stack up to other great crime or noir films of the era, and it certainly doesn't stack up to Dassin's other great films.

A young socialite is found dead in her apartment. New York City homicide detectives, led by Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and 'new guy' Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor), quickly realize it's murder. (Remember that only new guys have names like Jimmy or Johnny.) One thing leads to another, and they start chasing clues and scratching off dead ends.

There's a lucid frankness about much of the plot, a realism that is rare in 1940s Hollywood cinema. The characters behave like real people, not catalysts to further the plot. There's a scene that involves the victim's parents that is just shockingly sad, and the main suspect is an unnervingly amoral grifter. The casting is great as well--it's good to see Fitzgerald--an aged, slurring Irishman--play something other than a town drunk or leprechaun.

But one thing that stuck out was Dassin's usual attention to detail. Though it was filmed nearly 60 years ago, the Naked City underscores NYC's majesty better than any film I've seen. The camera lingers over alleys and fire escapes as much as it does the skyline. It deserved the Best Cinematography and Film Editing Oscars it won.

The movie is plagued by some crippling problems, though. Producer Mark Hellinger--who died shortly after the film was made--provides a bizarre voiceover that pops up every possible unwelcome moment. A sizeable fraction of the film also veers into quasi-documentary territory, which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for Hellinger's drab voice describing mundane facts about New York, the camera panning over textiles and women mopping bank floors.

I liked it, though. I can see how the excellent TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets may have been inspired by the movie fifty years later, and you can see every NYC-set film trying to ape some of the majesty of these outside shots.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/16/2007 10:47:00 PM,


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