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Movie Critique – The Naked City

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A trend-setting film noir for a cops-robbers chase plot, with subtle humor and giving a view into police procedures - a must watch if you like film noir.

The Naked City is a 1948 American film noir based on a story by Malvin Wald depicting police investigation into the murder of a young model. The movie is pictured partially in documentary style with narration in the background, focusing on police procedures extensively.

A young ex-model, Jean Dexter, is murdered in her apartment by two intruders and the case falls into the hands of Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (portrayed by Barry Fitzgerald) and his young assistant Detective Jimmy Halloran (portrayed by Don Taylor) of the Homicide division. The primary suspects end up being Frank Niles (portrayed by Howard Duff), Jean's ex-boyfriend and Ruth Morrison (portrayed by Dorothy Hart), Jean's friend. Thus the investigation continues that takes the police into the apartments and streets of the naked city, New York.

The film made some milestones in film making paving way to many more future films that were successful using these markers. For instance, the documentary style of filming; using the actual streets and landmarks in New York as opposed to studios; going into the depths of police work; a cop-robber chase scene that takes almost the last 15 minutes of the movie.

Incidentally the film had no opening credits except in the narration by Hellinger in the beginning of the movie, even the name of the film comes at the end of the movie. This was also the first film to provide technical credits at the end of the movie. Again a different take by the director. The film was shot in 84 days in hot summer of 1947 in New York.

The film won Academy Awards for Cinematography for William H. Daniels and for Film Editing to Paul Weatherwax, although Wald also received a nomination for Writing. The film title and visual style were in part inspired by New York photographer Weegee's 1945 published book of photographs of New York also titled The Naked City.

Producer Mark Hellinger was the narrator in the film, who sadly passed away at a very young age of 44 after reviewing the final cut of the film. Just as the producer mentions in the beginning of the movie, most of the film contains actual citizens of New York without make up or shine, except for the key actors who played their parts.

The director, Jules Dassin, gives the viewers a slice of New York on hot summer nights and days while the investigators solve the case. Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald who write the screenplay induced cop humor at every corner even though there was chase going on. For instance, Detective Muldoon likes to call an unidentified suspect's name as "Joseph P. McGillicuddy"; or the old woman who comes in with the power of Sight to solve the case.

The soft undertone of Muldoon and the quick but determined thinking Halloran form a very compatible pair. So much so that, a TV series of the same name was created that aired between 1958 and 1963. The narration of the film concludes by saying "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." This was used in the TV series as well. 

The climax cops-robber chase is terrifying if you see the first time. With the cinematography by William Daniels made it evermore frightening. Daniels also had to hide in a van while filming the scenes on the streets so the passersby appear as natural as possible as opposed to knowing a film being shot. You can actually see the van in the windows of the stores in the street this was being filmed. 

I remember Howard Duff from one episode in Murder, She Wrote (Episode Deadly Lady) and one episode in Twilight Zone (Episode A World of Difference). This is the first time I am watching one of his movies. Although with the old time radio podcasts I have been listening to lately, I have heard Howard Duff as Sam Spade in The Adventures of Sam Spade. As for Dorothy Hart, never heard of her before until now. 

Don Taylor, though a green actor himself then, went on to become a successful director of 27 films, episodes for 53 television series, apart from acting in several successful movies. While Barry Fitzgerald had been an established film, tv and theater actor by then.

Quite a few actor made their debut in this film, although were not credited for it. We see James Gregory as a patrolman Albert Hicks in the movie. He goes on to become a great actor becoming famous for his role as Inspector Frank Luger in 1970s comedy TV show Barney Miller. I however remember him for his roles as Coach Rizzo in the episode The Most Crucial Game and as David L. Bucker in the episode Short Fuse on Columbo, the TV detective series.

We also see Kathleen Freeman, as the stout girl on the elevated train. She goes on to have a career of 50 years in film and tv industry after. 

John Randolph debuts as the police dispatcher, who has again a successful film, tv and stage career for approx 55 years. 

Bruce Gordon is seen as the cop on the Williamsburg Bridge, in the background in the pic below, the man with the hat. He is famous for his gangster role as Frank Nitti in the ABC TV series The Untouchables, although his acting career lasted for half a century between tv, films and stage.

Walter Burke debuted as Peter Backalis, drunk guy in the pic below. He has also a successful 55 year career on stage, tv and films. 

And finally Nehemiah Persoff who has just one part, to walk off the Subway smiling, the man with the lighter color hat in the pic. He became a successful painter and an actor on tv, film and stage spanning 50 years again.

This film marked the last appearance of Grover Burgess who played the role of Mr. Batory, father of the dead girl. He died 3 months after the release of the film. 

Here Detective Muldoon watches from his office, kids playing jump rope singing the nursery rhyme "Mother, Mother, I am Ill". 

Key landmarks of New York that are prominently seen in the film. The 10th Precinct shown at the beginning of the movie still resides in the same location, with the first floor interior still the same as shown in the film. 

And this one being Williamsburg Bridge where the film concludes.

Electrifying cop-robber chase with a plot both simple and complex, giving readers a view into the procedures of police, and also a trend-setting cinematography and direction of film noir, entertaining the viewers thoroughly. A must watch for all the film noir fans. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the first scene when the girls are looking into the shop window, you can see Detective Halloran talking to the shop lady and she is standing. But in the very next scene, she is sitting. You can also see a crew member directing the extras in the reflection on the left of the window.

b. In the waterfront scene. The sun goes down first and the immediate scene, the sun goes up.

c. In one of the chase scenes, when pedestrians point out to where the guy had gone to the detective, one man turns back and smiles at the camera saying something to the crew. He is on the bottom right of the pic below. 


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