The Naked City (1948)

Genres - Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Film Noir, Police Detective Film, Urban Drama  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

The Naked City has been hailed -- and rightfully so -- for effecting a transformation in the nature of crime dramas. Its exclusive use of actual New York City locations, coupled with Jules Dassin's fluid direction and the deliberately flat, unaffected acting style used by most of the cast, all lent a verisimilitude and immediacy to the film that was spellbinding in its time and is still bracing to watch. Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann had attempted something similar in 1947 with He Walked By Night, set in Los Angeles, but the results were more engrossing than exciting. Naked City's authentic New York ambience, the visuals playing off of the city's architecture, its streets and alleyways, bridges and rooftops, and its residents, give the movie an intense, intrinsic excitement. This, in turn, allowed Dassin to work out all kinds of quiet little plots and acting bits of business that, in a studio-bound movie, would have slowed the proceedings to a standstill and sent audiences walking to the lobby. Screenwriters Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald knew exactly what they were doing, with a script that provides a continual stream of fascinating information, adding layer upon layer of material for the viewer's benefit, which Dassin and the cast weave into a dazzling tapestry of humanity. The movie proved astonishingly honest and prescient as a mirror of many aspects of human behavior, especially its depiction of the way that the press and the public react to cases involving attractive victims, and also the public's lingering fixation on crime scenes. As a source of inspiration, The Naked City's influence extended for decades after its release, to movies like Force of Evil, The Tattooed Stranger, and Guilty Bystander that came out in its wake; into the late '50s with the film Cop Hater and the television series Naked City; and through the 1960s with films such as Madigan and series such as N.Y.P.D. Although the visual and plot elements must take center stage, anyone watching should also make note of the music and the odd circumstances of its composition. Originally, Dassin chose to use a score composed by a musician friend of his, who, like him, had been dropped by the major studios because of his political views; producer Mark Hellinger agreed, but when he heard the resulting score, he knew that it was no good and that it would have to be rewritten. Hellinger approached Miklos Rozsa, who had scored his previous two films done at Universal, but Rozsa said that the two weeks he had to work with was too short a time for him to rescore the movie by himself; they agreed that Frank Skinner, a member of Universal's music department, would also score part of the film. Hellinger was also the narrator of the movie, and he died of a heart attack soon after recording his closing monologue; Rozsa's contribution was the music accompanying the chase sequence on the Lower East Side and on the Williamsburg Bridge, and underscoring the close of the film, narrated by Hellinger. Rozsa deliberately made the scoring of the latter sequence into a musical eulogy for his friend and colleague Hellinger.