The Naked City (1948)
Here’s a title proposed to me by movie pal Kristina at Speakeasy as part of our monthly Mad Movie Challenge. It’s one of those films that for some strange reason I had never seen despite loving the genre of Noir and gangsters. So after seeing it I realize there is much to like here but at the same time there is one thing I would love to change if I could.
Director Jules Dassin offers us along with producer Mark Hellinger a departure from the standard films of the day by taking us on a location shoot in New York. This turns out to be a strong point for the film in both action and how the story unfolds. Producer Hellinger does double duty here as the films narrator and for the opening credits actually tells us who is in the film and some of the credited people behind the scenes. That’s different!
To get our plot kick started look no further than Ted de Corsia and an accomplice committing a murder that for 1948 is actually more suggestive than is usual for the era. Cut to one of my favorite scene stealers, Barry Fitzgerald who is cast here against type as the detective on the case. With rookie partner Don Taylor in tow they methodically go over the murder scene unlike any film of it’s day. Once again another example of how the makers of this film were going for realism.
Dassin includes many scenes not usually shown in films at this time. Scenes such as the breakdown of a mother identifying her daughter at the morgue. Strong stuff then and still holds power today. Outdoor scenes of children playing in the spray from a fire hydrant. Everyday life in the big city.
So with pipe in hand, Barry Fitzgerald is once again after his old friend Joseph P. McGillicuddy. His pet name for unidentified suspects. Barry would almost seem naked without that pipe for a prop. Howard Duff turns up as a key suspect and along with his love interest Dorothy Hart send Barry on a twisting road to find de Corsia and the reasons behind the murder of a beautiful young woman.
Dassin and Hellinger were just coming off another film with “realism” as a character. Burt Lancaster’s hard hitting prison film Brute Force. Sadly Hellinger would die upon the completion of this film leaving Dassin alone to film another realistic film the following year, Thieves Highway.
Faces to watch for here in small roles are Arthur O’Connell, James Gregory and Kathleen Freeman in her film debut. I never thought she could look so young. Don’t forget to savor Barry Fitzgerald singing an Irish tune while making his breakfast in his undershirt. A real pro. As for Ted de Corsia, it’s films like this that solidified his career path as a heavy. He’s that good.
Now I mentioned in my opening statement about changing one thing if I could. The narration. I would delete it. Perhaps if it was a voice over from an actual character I could live with it but it’s producer Hellinger and I don’t feel it is needed. Perhaps if George Lucas bought the rights to the film he would make it happen as he just loves to tinker with films over and over and over……just so long as he leaves the film’s final image as it’s a classic.
Don’t forget to checkout Speakeasy for Kristina’s challenge on a Fritz Lang favorite.