Naked City (1948)

 “I had to wallow in my own filth.”

The Naked City is a film noir presented with a semi-documentary style, and the result is a film that’s as much about the city of New York, and police procedure as it is about the crime under investigation. The film begins with the violent murder of model, Jean Dexter. Jocular Police Detective Lt. Barry Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) doesn’t quite carry the role, but clean-cut Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) aids in the investigation. One of the first things Muldoon and Halloran discover is that there’s a mystery man in the dead model’s life. Unfortunately, no one–not even Jean Dexter’s friends really know who Henderson is. A break comes in the case when it’s discovered that the Black Star Sapphire Jean owned is stolen property. The detectives then set about solving the crime.

While the film is light on character analysis, it’s heavy on atmosphere. The film moves forward with a voice-over narration (Mark Hellinger) with world-weary tones hinting at the endless crime that takes place within the city. And yet there’s also a sense of homage and affection for the city and the regular law-abiding citizens who live there. Many scenes include shots of city dwellers going about their business while we hear their voices conduct conversations revealing snapshots of their intimate thoughts, and this facet of the film reminded me of Wim Wenders’ film Faraway, So Close. Wenders uses this technique in his film to give the city of Berlin character, and in The Naked City, director Jules Dassin applies the technique much more successfully and consistently throughout the entire film.

The film concludes with an amazing chase scene, and includes some spectacular shots of the city’s infrastructure. “The Naked City” was later developed into a television series and one has the sense that the story hasn’t really concluded as the final credits roll. The narrator tells us: “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

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Filed under Film Noir

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