The Naked City, a review

April 24, 2008

The Naked City

Since I’m not a native New Yorker, I felt a little precocious about seeing the city “Naked.” But, as I also happen to be as voyeuristic as the next guy, I decided, “what the hell?” and I watched. Let me tell you…the sheer number of people milling around, getting on and off the subway, living their lives, eating their lunch…well, it’s staggering to a small town girl like me. I found myself wanting to shove my children out of the way, saying, “Move it, pal,” as I made my way to the fridge for a soda during viewing.

The Naked City was filmed on location in 1948, during the peak of the film noir era. At the time, “on location” movies were unusual (so I’ve been told) and this was fresh and new for America. For the first time, movie goers were allowed to see the city as it lived, making New York the biggest star of the film.

Other unusual features of this movie: there are no opening credits and not much of a musical score. But we aren’t allowed to feel disappointed. After all, a narrator jumps in immediately, warning us that this film is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.” And, in case we forget, he jumps in throughout the film from time to time, underscoring the amount of work it is for a department to catch a killer.

The movie was directed by Jules Dassin and produced by Mark Hellinger. Barry Fitzgerald plays the sharp Irish cop, comes with his own brogue and everything, assisted by Don Taylor as Jimmy Halloran…the leg man. Together they work to track down the killer of a blonde named Jean Dexter, found dead in her bathtub. Strangled. Chloroformed. With a big, black starred sapphire in her possession and a pair of men’s pajamas in the bedroom.

First of all, NOT film-noir. If I had to classify this movie…and I do…I’d say it’s an original docu-drama. We are taken along with the cops, none of whom have any skeletons in their closets, as they try to solve the case. They bring in suspects, one by one, throw the book at ‘em, and let ‘em go. But the list of potential murderers narrows and eventually, a crime ring is uncovered. There’s none of the self-destructive downward spiral for the main characters in this film…all of that takes place with the crooks here, so we don’t feel the angst and the devastation as the film reaches its climax.

But it’s got a halfway decent foot chase and it’s worth watching, if you get a chance. I wouldn’t run out and buy it…check your local listings.

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