The Naked City (1948)


(director: Jules Dassin; screenwriters: Albert Maltz/Malvin Wald/based the story by Malvin Wald; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Paul Weatherwax; music: Frank Skinner/Miklos Rozsa; cast: Barry Fitzgerald (Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon), Howard Duff (Frank Niles), Dorothy Hart (Ruth Morrison), Don Taylor (Jimmy Halloran), Ted de Corsia (Willie Garzah), Frank Conroy (Capt. Donahue), Mark Hellinger (Narrator); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mark Hellinger; Universal; 1948)

“It plays as just another crime episode in a typical homicide detective’s day.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shot on location in New York City, in black-and-white, the filmmaker uses the city to full advantage to bring out the city’s alluring personality. The dazzling photography won for cinematographer William Daniels an Oscar. The narrator (Mark Hellinger) mentions that “There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.” The city is the unabashed star of Jules Dassin’s (“Brute Force”/”Thieves Highway”) crime thriller, which he shot in a semi-documentary style in a way that borders on film noir conventions. The narrator goes on to mention “This is the city as it is. The children at play, the buildings in their naked stone.”

The Naked City tells the tale of a typical police investigation enriched by Dassin’s assured direction and the tautness of Albert Maltz’s screenplay. Based on an unpublished story by Malvin Wald, “Naked City,” the film was so much praised that it has been often imitated and perhaps overrated in the growing status it gained over the years. The film was the inspiration for the TV series, “Naked City.” The accent here is on the ordinariness of the usual police business, as it plays as just another crime episode in a typical homicide detective’s day. The film covers about six days, in time for the featured crime investigation to conclude.

Veteran detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) is working with a younger and unmotivated assistant, Detective James Halloran (Don Taylor), on the mysterious murder of a beautiful young, sexually promiscuous, morally dubious, model who was knocked unconscious and drowned in her Manhattan apartment bathtub, and her jewelry was also stolen. The two detectives go through the usual police procedures of tracking down clues and turn up no substantial leads. But Muldoon proves to be a crafty detective and with the help of others in the department narrows the search for the killer down to two suspects: Frank Niles (Howard Duff), the fast living spoiled son of a wealthy family whose story doesn’t check out, and Garzah (Ted de Corsia), a devious muscle boy with a criminal past who acts as the strong arm for Niles.

Fitzgerald pours on the charm in much too heavy and hammy a way, but is nevertheless winsome. His assistant, Don Taylor, can only muster a flat performance. But Ted de Corsia, as the frenzied killer on the run through the Lower East Side tenements until being cornered on the Brooklyn Bridge, provides the film with its most memorable thrills. The city is always elegantly shot whether in the rich or poor neighborhoods and its mysterious nature is treated with bountiful affection and respect in this simplistic narrative–there are good guys and bad guys, with no gray in-between.