The Naked City (1948)

Film Review

THE NAKED CITY

Release Date: 4 March, 1948

Director: Jules Dassin

Stars: Barry Fitzgerald, Don Taylor, Howard Duff, Ted de Corsia, Dorothy Hart

Writer: Albert Maltz and Marvin Wald

Cinematographer: William H. Daniels

Special Notes: TCM Classic Film Festival, 2014

The Naked City was shown in the Discoveries (signifying little-known or forgotten films worth rediscovering) category at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. The guest speakers were Eddie Muller and Tiffany Vasquez, TCM Ultimate Fan Contest winner.

Synopsis

Det. Lt. Dan Muldoon (Fitzgerald) and his associate, Jimmy Halloran (Taylor), investigate the murder of a former model. They search for the murderer among the denizens of the gritty streets of New York City. The manhunt ends in a chase along the waterfront and the death of Garzah (de Corsia), the wounded murderer, who plunges off a bridge.

Discussion

In this semi-documentary police procedural, no actor stands out because there are no dramatic roles. The city itself provides the drama. The low-key detectives, Fitzgerald and Taylor, convey competence and determination, patiently pursuing clues and questioning suspects in order to determine the motive and apprehend the murderer. The drama arises as their investigation takes them through crowded streets and into scummy tenements and climaxes in a pursuit of the murderer along the streets, up and down stairways, until they shoot him, and he falls from a bridge with the cityscape looming in the background. The city itself is a major character, providing the setting and atmosphere.

Initially, the picture had the generic title Homicide, but during filming, this title was changed to Naked City, paralleling the film's imagery of the city in all her forms, including gritty areas unfamiliar to most of the film-going public. The film was popular and did very well at the box office, especially in New York City where it played for months.

During the period when Naked City was in production, the producer, director, and screenwriter met with misfortune.

Producer Mark Hellinger spoke the narration providing the needed sound of a native New Yorker. Hellinger had been a New York columnist before moving to Hollywood and becoming an associate producer at Warner Brothers. He became an independent producer in 1945. Naked City had been finished, but not released, when Hellinger died of a heart attack in December 1947.

Director Dassin and writer Maltz were caught up in the congressional investigations of Communist infiltration and influence in Hollywood. Both men had been members of the Communist Party. In their testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, directors Frank Tuttle and Edward Dmytryk named Dassin as a member of their Communist group. Blacklisted, his film career severely damaged, Dassin left the US for Europe where, except for short periods, he remained for the rest of his life. Maltz had just finished the script for Naked City when he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to cooperate, was convicted of contempt of Congress, and was serving a 10 month sentence in Federal Prison at the time Naked City was released. After his discharge from prison, he lived and wrote in Mexico for 10 years before returning to California.

Guest Introduction

This film was the first police procedural with a gritty and very real atmosphere. Shot on location it gained the only Oscar of his career for William H. Daniels, the cinematographer who had photographed the great actresses of MGM, such as Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Jeanette MacDonald on magnificent sets, but seldom ventured into location shooting. The producer, Mark Hellinger, provides the voice-over narration.

Eddie Muller

Tiffany Vazquez, the Ultimate Fan Contest Winner, had chosen the film because she is from New York City and the film was unusual in showing sections of the city beyond Manhattan.

References

Mark Hellinger, a Film Producer. Obituary. New York Times. December 22, 1947.

Albert Maltz. Obituary. Variety. April 29. 1985.

Helmer had global view. Dassin Obituary by Richard Natale. Variety. April 1, 2008

Noir helmer was blacklisted. Dassin Obituary by Richard Natale. Variety. April 7, 2008