Several issues back our Graffiti Thursday schedule featured our list of Definitive Detective films. Thanks to the contribution and collaboration from our team and friends of Graffiti, our list featured quite a few films that I hadn’t crossed paths with. In the coming months, I’m going to attempt to complete the whole set.
We open the film at the scene of a crime. The beautiful Jean Dexter, caught up with the wrong people is killed in New York City. Before the night’s out, two killers become one when an emerging guilty conscience forces the hand of the more sadistic one of the two, who also bludgeoning his partner to death and tosses him in the East River. Jules Dassin’s The Naked City is a brilliant (and for its time) authentic police procedural; with the added enhancement of unfolding in the bustling New York City. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time where films where daunted by tackling NYC in person, but Dassin makes the locations vital to the unfolding Noir.
Dassin uses a strange voice-over devise in the film. The detached ‘voice of god’ character outlines and emphasises the events of the story. From the obvious, “can you believe it, we shot this film in mutha f*ckin NYC?(I’m paraphrasing); establishing locations; connecting the dots between the different activities taking place throughout the team of ‘murder police’; or finally, attempting to draw the audience into the headspace of the characters. The on location authenticity is reinforced over and again.
Writers Albert Maltz & Malvin Wald and Dassin render the true labour and manpower of the task. I’m sure you’re painfully aware of the leg work involved in an investigation after the regimented and polished Law and Order format have “dun dunned” you to death with the assembly of any crime. Dassin and co. use time and the slog of ‘pounding pavement’ to new locations, surveillance, post interrogation debrief and reporting in such a ay that you find yourself feeling like they’re earning their keep.
Barry Fitzgerald’s Detective Lieutenant Dan Muldoon has a little Irish brogue and there are moments looking at the crisp Criterion collection HD restoration makes it obvious that they’ve gone back to re-record some of his dialogue for post production recording. It’s a performance that adheres to the theatrical mode of the period; but there’s something about the accent and the braggadocio that’s lyrically pouring out of his head that makes him mesmerising and visually engaging. Ted de Corsia’s Willie Garzah has a figuratively and literal slimy menace. Don Taylor’s Jimmy Halloran and Anne Sargent’s Mrs. Halloran have such a refreshing struggle with parenthood and balancing career and home life presented, even if it is very brief. Howard Duff’s Frank Niles does a great job to confound you throughout the film.
The Naked City is an incredible time capsule because you can feel New York pulsating with an idealistic contentment. There’s a true pursuit of happiness after the devastation of the war that the city itself seems to reject the diseased cell of a person willing to do murder in the city. The climax of the film on the Brooklyn Bridge has a strange quality that the city itself, in its vastness, admonishes the villain’s attempt to flee.
While The Naked City’s theatricality of performance and narration carbon date it to its 1948 production; the authenticity and the thrill of the chase remain undeniably good.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Albert Maltz & Malvin Wald (screenplay and story)
Barry Fitzgerald … Det. Lt. Dan Muldoon
Howard Duff … Frank Niles
Dorothy Hart … Ruth Morrison
Don Taylor … Jimmy Halloran
Frank Conroy … Capt. Donahue
Ted de Corsia … Willly Garzah (as Ted De Corsia)
House Jameson … Dr. Stoneman
Anne Sargent … Mrs. Halloran
Adelaide Klein … Mrs. Batory
Grover Burgess … Mr. Batory
Tom Pedi … Detective Perelli
Enid Markey … Mrs. Hylton
Mark Hellinger … Narrated By (voice)