Sunday, June 07, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Naked City (1948)

"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." These memorable words end the terrific Oscar-winning police procedural THE NAKED CITY.

The movie opens with narration by producer Mark Hellinger, skipping the traditional opening credits, which are saved for the end; instead, Hellinger verbally acknowledges some of the film's creators in his introduction. It's interesting, as Hellinger simultaneously acknowledges that viewers are watching a movie and sets up the plot, plunging us immediately into the story. Hellinger also lets those watching know that the movie was filmed in New York; the locations add immeasurably to the film's great "docu-noir" feel.

Barry Fitzgerald plays the lead homicide detective on the case. (A couple years later Fitzgerald was also very effective as the detective in UNION STATION, reviewed here.) Don Taylor is the homicide detective learning the ropes; it's similar to the role Tom Drake played in another film I recently viewed, SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949).

The cast also includes strikingly lovely Dorothy Hart as a friend of the murder victim; a young Howard Duff, appearing in his second film, as the friend's sneaky fiance; Frank Conroy as Fitzgerald's police superior; Anne Sargent as Taylor's wife; and Ted De Corsia as a murder suspect.

A large number of well-known character actors turn up throughout the film, including Paul Ford (Mayor Shinn of THE MUSIC MAN), Arthur O'Connell, John Randolph, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Shumway, Russ Conway, Jean Adair, Molly Picon, James Gregory, and Kathleen Freeman. Gale Sondergaard's sister Hester appears as a nurse.

I really enjoy films of this era which show the state of police art at that time. We see the police dusting for prints, photographing the crime scene, painstakingly comparing paper lists of evidence from multiple cases (hard to imagine what it was like before computers), and putting in endless hours of footwork.

Similar movies reviewed here in the past include KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), BOOMERANG! (1947), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948), PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), and MYSTERY STREET (1950). The films made from 1947-50 all similarly employed narration and/or location filming to give a greater sense of realism. All of these movies are highly recommended for those who enjoy the genre or want to try it out.

THE NAKED CITY was directed by Jules Dassin. Mr. Dassin passed away in April 2008; you can read more about him here.

The film won Oscars for Cinematography (William H. Daniels) and Editing (Paul Weatherwax). It was also nominated for Best Story (Malvin Wald, who cowrote the screenplay). The score is by Miklos Rozsa and Frank Skinner.

THE NAKED CITY is available on VHS and DVD. The DVD is part of the Criterion Collection and contains plentiful extras, including a commentary by screenwriter Malvin Wald. The print is outstanding. DVD reviews are here (Jay Carr for TCM) and here (DVD Savant Glenn Erickson).

THE NAKED CITY is shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger NoirGirl said...

Oh, this is one of my favorite Noirs! Barry Fitzgerald and Don Taylor make such a great team. Every time I watch this I wish they had continued on the formula in a series.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I would have loved to watch another movie with them as well. This was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to spending more time with this film as I watch the extras.

Best wishes,

8:57 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I agree with NoirGirl, this is one of my favorite Noirs too. I love how real and gritty it is and how they literally kill off the glamour in the beginning to get to it.

6:26 AM  

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