Movie Diary: The Naked City (1948)

I actually saw this movie on Monday night, so it's taken me a few days to get around to writing about it. These things happen, I guess. I haven't seen any movies since then, so hopefully it's still relatively fresh in my mind.

Since "The Naked City" is a black and white crime film from 1948, directed by Jules Dassin, I wasn't really sure whether to expect a pre-WWII straight up crime film a la "Public Enemy" or a noir film along the lines of "Pickup On South Street." Turns out that, although there are elements of both styles in "The Naked City," it is ultimately not part of either genre classification. Instead, "The Naked City" is the beginning of something else, which seemed mostly to take hold in the American crime television of the 50s, rather than its movies: the verite crime drama. "The Naked City" is narrated by Mark Hellinger, who provides a solemn, tough-sounding voiceover that emphasizes the fact that the entire film was shot on location in New York, rather than on studio back lots. The plot of the film follows two NYC homicide detectives, longtime veteran Danny Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his younger partner Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) in their investigative attempts to solve a murder.

Now, not only is the plot and structure of "The Naked City" not at all groundbreaking to today's viewer, it probably seems more than a little cliche. That said, for the time, this movie was a lot closer to the truth of police work and homicide investigations than anything else being produced concurrently. Muldoon and Halloran are given red-herring tips, receive false confessions from the mentally ill, and do a whole lot of boring, tedious legwork before starting to fit the pieces of the puzzle into place. It's entertaining to watch them do all of this, despite its no doubt tedious nature were it shown in real time, because we viewers are only brought in when something interesting happens--a suspect is interrogated, police chase a fugitive through crowded night-time streets, some sort of gun battle occurs, that sort of thing. At first, the things Muldoon and Halloran are stumbling over mostly seem to have nothing to do with the initial murder they're solving, but of course, in the end they prove to lead right back to that murder through some unlikely back channels. And, of course, the whole thing ends with an insane shootout on top of the Williamsburg Bridge.

I didn't think "The Naked City" was a classic or anything, but as post-WWII crime movies go, it was quite enjoyable. I especially like watching any movie with period footage of New York City, and it had quite a bit of that. I have no idea if the late 50s television show with the same name, which was based on this movie, or any of its similar contemporaries, such as "Dragnet," were any good, but the movie itself is well worth checking out.



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