The Naked City (1948)

The Naked City (1948) movie poster

director Jules Dassin
viewed: 12/14/2015

Jules Dassin and Mark Hellinger’s The Naked City could have been a really interesting anomaly.  Except, over a decade after it came out, it morphed into a television show, having no relation to Dassin nor Hellinger (who died before the film had even been released).  And it utilized the one super-iconic thing from the film, the line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The real story though, in the film, is a pulpy procedural, showing the long, hard work of being a detective, working a case with not a lot of information, a murder of a model and the hunt for her killers.  But it’s not the story that’s so interesting.  The film is shot in part in mock-documentary style, with a classic omniscient voice-over telling all as it is.  The adherence to this style grounds the film in aspects of neo-realism and documentary, pushing for a sense of realism over drama.

While all that is kind of interesting, the thing that really winds up being compelling is the fact that the film was shot entirely on location in New York City, even many interior shots.  In a way, outside the story’s drama, we have a depiction of New York on any given day, like something from People on Sunday (1930) or a much less jazzed up Man with a Movie Camera (1929).  The images of the city are truly revelatory, even when speaking of a city like New York that has been captured so much and so often on film.

It’s interesting that Dassin utilizes location in several of his important films: San Francisco and Oakland in Thieves’ Highway (1949), London in Night and the City (1950), or Paris in Rififi (1955).

While the drama isn’t particularly rich and the stiffness of the documentary style might chafe you, somehow, this The Naked City transcends it all and becomes a truly worthwhile document.

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