The Naked City

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

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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].

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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.

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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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