Friday, September 20, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Naked City (1948) ****

NR, 96 min.
Director: Jules Dassin
Writers: Albert Maltz, Malvin Wald
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy, Ted De Corsia, House Jameson, Anne Sargent, Adeline Klein, Grover Burgess, Tom Pedi, Enid Markey
Narrator: Mark Hellinger

Jules Dassin’s “The Naked City” seems as if it must’ve been a most unusual movie for its time. Yet, it also seems to be the first ever modern police procedural, a genre that has become so commonplace, its format is the only way to ensure a hit television program. It set the blue prints for all police procedurals to follow, from “Seven”, to TV’s “Law & Order” and even the supernatural-based “Grimm”; they all owe just a little of their successes to Jules Dassin’s “The Naked City”.

At first it may seem that the film’s didactic nature will hold it back from being something incredibly special. Mark Hellinger’s narration is original, but spells out the proceedings in such a way as to seem almost bland at first. But, eventually the mystery of who killed Grace Dexter begins to flesh itself out and Hellinger’s narration becomes more playful as he questions the legitimacy of some of the character’s choices.

Barry Fitzgerald’s leading role as the murder’s lead detective is something of an anomaly in film. He’s all character actor—nothing leading man about him—and he’s just great. The television procedurals would pick up on this queue and would become a place to find great character actors playing lead investigators, like Peter Faulk’s “Colombo”. Other details would also find their way into the television procedurals, like the little glances into the personal lives of the detectives, and the way a dead end would turn out to hold a key element to solving the crime.

Despite it’s obvious influence on the genre of the procedural, “The Naked City” is like no other film or television series in the genre. It’s almost raw in its execution. The way it looks at the city of New York as a character in itself is wholly original, something that would be embraced more by comedy films than crime dramas. The little details it imbues upon its characters, like Lt. Muldoon’s singing along with the kids skipping jump ropes outside the precinct window. There’s some thing pure and innocent in the execution of this rather heavy material that gives it an energy all its own. “The Naked City” is a must see classic.

Watch the movie in its entirety below.

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