The Naked City (1948)
Jules Dassin’s half-noir, half-documentary reserves its romance not for its characters but for the city of New York itself. Introduced by Mark Hellinger’s playful narration, the film pays a moving tribute to the city that never sleeps. In terms of plot, everything is pretty straightforward, avoiding the convoluted stories of its genre companions. The cast’s performances are solid and Hollywood stalwart Barry Fitzgerald nearly eats the scenery with his over-the-top leprechaun of a cop, being a real joy to watch.
The genuine heart of the film is a depiction of everyday New York – on location – and the workings of a ‘real-world’ police investigation into one of the many stories the city has to offer. The themes on display are still relevant today – a city both gives and takes in equal measure with the daily pleasures and vibrance hiding a dark underbelly which is unforgiving once entered.
Given the aim here is representing authenticity, not necessarily aesthetic, it’s even more surprising that the film is so good to ogle.
Specifically, the film has two mighty shots, although they are not related to the on-location shooting which perhaps make the movie best-known. The first is a well-framed sequence where the rural parents of our murdered dame bemoan the vulgarities of city life, beautifully set against a glowing moon above the riverside. The second, near the film’s conclusion, is a stunning vertical shot of a spiralling staircase as our detective chases the murderous wrestler – a debuting Ted De Corsia – responsible for all the trouble. This shot seems an early forerunner to Hitchcock’s own use of these camera angles in Vertigo (1958).
Overall, a picture whose pseudo-documentary feel uniquely identifies it as something of a classic; but the modestly timid approach to plotting means The Naked City (1948) isn’t a timeless one. The film also lacks some of the defining characteristics of the noir genre: there’s no femme fatale, expressionist lighting nor morally unsure anti-heroes. In contrast, Dassin’s Rififi (1955) goes the full hog and is a step above. That said, by disregarding the comic book aspects of noir, this is still one of the most accurate attempts to showcase real police work in 40s cinema.
Hotdog Rating: 7.5/10