Before “CSI,” before “The French Connection,” even before “Dragnet,” there was “The Naked City.” Jules Dassin’s noir classic gritty classic is a pioneer of the “police procedural” genre, letting its drama arise from the realistic depiction of day-to-day police work rather than from specatular cops-and-robbers shootouts. It was also shot entirely on location in New York City (back in a time when studio-bound shooting was still the norm), which only adds to the gritty vibe.
Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald), a crusty old-school Irish detective, teams up with neophyte partner Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) to solve the murder of an aspiring model who is involved with a jewelry theft ring. Complications pile on fast and furious, all leading up to the thrilling climactic chase scene through the streets and back alleys of Manhattan.
Six decades later, the film manages to hold up, mostly due to all that realism, and offers a fascinating glimpse at everyday life in New York at the time. The one aspect of the film that falls flat, though, is its most artifical aspect -- the voice-over narration provided by producer Mark Hellinger. Before getting into the movie business, Hellinger started out as a headline writer for the New York tabloids, and he brings that lurid sensationalism fully to bear on the narration. Too bad that sort of writing just sounds so cheesy now.
But that's only a minor quibble. Don't let it get in the way of your enjoyment of this noir classic.
Although the closing line is the best remembered and has entered the vernacular ("There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."), my favorite line is reaction of the model's mother after learning that her daughter, who had fled their small town for the glamor of the big city, is murdered: “Dear God, why couldn’t she have been born ugly?”
Keep your eye out for James Gregory, in his film debut, playing the bit part of a beat cop near the end of the movie. Gregory would later go on to play a number of memorable character roles in movies and TV shows, including the clueless Sen. Iselin in “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) and the crusty Inspector Luger in “Barney Miller.”
Dassin's other noir classic, "Night and the City" (1950). Also, episodes of the "Naked City" spin-off television series, or of the original 1950s incarnation of “Dragnet.”
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