Even without the ridiculously annoying narrator, The Naked City would still be a mediocre film. It is basically an episode of CSI without any of the technology. A police procedure film about the murder of a young model that takes place in New York. Not exactly original. Of course, this film is pretty old, and that is where its main value lies; as an artifact and historical example of what Hollywood was doing right after World War II. The film has a distinct beat, melodrama, investigation, humor, repeat; and its initial claim to be something of a documentary is laughable when you consider the carefully arranged sets, shots and soft-focus close ups of dames. And, of course, the film has Barry Fitzgerald, a character actor of such caliber that any film he’s in automatically becomes stereotypical [cf. The Quiet Man].
Despite the overbearing, smarmy narrator, and the leprechaun in the main role, the film continually disgraces itself by providing a completely predictable plot liberally sauced with compeltely transparent attempts at titillation [cf. the bare midriff of Halloran's wife]. Instead of suspense being created by having the viewer know that someone is lying but unable to tell who, the film exceeds itself in cunning by making it obvious that everyone is lying. Key breaks in the case always come when everything seems lost, and routine procedure always wins out over intuition. It is hard to make an exciting film when mundanity is the topic.
It also never ceases to amaze me that Hollywood rarely relies on obvious Gothamists to play the important parts. The film is littered with bit part wise-guy New Yorkers, but the main roles are played by an Irishman and a Midwesterner. This is a bit like how most national news anchors have a Midwestern accent, more appealing to everyone across the nation. But stupid. The film is groundbreaking for the fact that it did much of the shooting on location, instead of on a lot somewhere, and at the time this was probably a new and interesting technique. That’s definitely something that has been lost over the years and the film suffers for it. Anyway, it has been awhile since I’ve had the chance to really lay into a film. This felt good. The Naked City isn’t a bad film, and your time won’t be wasted in watching it, but you should probably multi-task while doing it.
- Criterion Essay by Luc Sante
- YouTube Clip 1, Clip 2