Monday, August 05, 2013

The Naked City 1948

There are eight million stories in The Naked City, and this here movie directed by Jules Dassin is probably the most famous of those stories. The title is taken from the seminal book of photographs of New York City by the great Weegee and in a way one can say that the film is like a flipbook of the Weegee.  Mostly neo-realist with a touch of Noir, (the opening murder seen through a window) the film is startling even for today. The gimmick was that the movie was entirely filmed in the gritty streets of the city, but there are scenes that are studio bound, not many but a few, and it features a cast mostly made up of new or second string actors with the exception of Barry Fitzgerald who plays the part of the lovable but tough Irish detective. So there is a brutal murder at the beginning and the rest of the film is taken up with finding who did it and why and of course this is what we expect from our police crime movies, except this one was different. It was new in its look, and it brought post war audiences right into the most famous city of the world and rubbed their faces in the grit and grime and crime of it, along with the glitter and glamour. It’s also a document of a city that doesn’t exist anymore, so for me a native and lover of this place watching it thrills and saddens me.  There are streets shown that I don’t recognize at all, there are places that are gone, like Penn Station and the Roxy (a fast shot takes place late at night in the unbelievable grand and large lobby) stores and blocks that have changed forever. This though is not just a nostalgic tour of a city, but a good fast paced crime movie that mixes all sorts of people up in a hot summer pre-air conditioned city. We know right off the bat who did the murder, but there are connections to the crime that slowly come out of the woodwork including fancy fashion dames, high society matrons, doctors, wrestlers and all sorts of urban stereotypes and low lives. This movie is fun in spite of its nasty crusty top. It comes with sometimes annoying narrative by the producer of the film Mark Hellinger. This kind of narration was common in these documentary like cops and robbers movies of the 40’s and 50’s, but this time the tough talking narration of Hellinger is mixed in with thoughts spoken by some of the citizens of the city and sometimes it works and sometimes it just plain silly and intrusive. Fitzgerald and his men, including Don Taylor (what a handsome man one of the characters says about him) pretty much cover the entire city looking for their killers including the lower eastside where an unbilled Molly Picon comes on as the stereotyped Yiddish candy store owner, that seems to be a fixture in these low budget crime movies that are set in New York. It is also here that the film finishes up with a spectacular chase across the Williamsburg Bridge that is a fitting end to this cat and mouse movie. Also memorable is the scene where the parents of the murder victim must identify the body in the morgue and it’s a heartbreaking and difficult scene to watch not only because of the task at hand but also for the conflicted emotions of the mother. No doubt this mother scene influenced Curtis Hansen because there is one like it in his very good “L.A. Confidential”.  Also in the cast is an oily Howard Duff, Ted de Cosica and a slew of unaccredited familiar faces in bit parts including David Opatoshu,, Paul Ford, Arthur O’Connell, Kathleen Freeman, James Gregory, Nehemiah Persoff and John Randolph. The great cinematography is by William Daniels who won the Oscar for it.  One of the ten best films of the year.  


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter