The Naked City

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #380: Jules Dassin’s The Naked City.


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.


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