Sunday, December 16, 2018
Noir Watch: "The Naked City" (1948)
Format: TCM on DVR (from Criterion, natch)
"There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." is probably a line you've heard used somewhere - maybe not from this movie, exactly, but from the television show loosely based on this movie that was a sort of crime-anthology series that started off in the late 1950's, aping the style of police procedural that The Naked City (1948) may not have originated, but it did get down to a T.
While the film contains a fairly interesting murder mystery for some NYPD detectives to sort through, the film uses the illusion of "reality" as the major draw. Filmed on the living, breathing streets of New York City, the movie does manage to capture the hustle and bustle of a non-studio--backlot version of New York, offering images of the real McCoy, something which must have been equal parts fascinating and scary to folks in fly-over country who'd never seen NYC. The other part of the "realism" served up is the decidedly un-melodramatic nature of the police in the film. There's no personal angle, no romantic entanglements. It's just guys in suits doing a job that pays too little for the hours and legwork.
In fact, most of what you think of with noir plotlines is scraped clean of audience participation in the seedy, sexy details, turned here into the sordid details of the deceased - a former model who is murdered in her own home and drowned in her own tub. An omniscient narrator spells out the scene, talks about the characters and gives us a sort of captioned take on the goings on of the film.
Still, I think I'm making it sound boring or not worthy of a viewing. It's a quick paced thriller with a ton of interesting stuff narratively and visually (especially when the two combine), but it also is sort of the blueprint for something like Law&Order or two dozen other cop shows. While a procedural, it's not a CSI-type show (I'll point to Mystery Street for that one).
But the direction is great, the slow unravelling of clues and persons-of-interest, and - if seeing NYC was fascinating to folks from elsewhere in '48, seeing the city then, alive and bustling, in 2018 is all the movie amazing.
Directed by Jules Dassin, it's another entry in my "holy cow, this guy is good" tally sheet for him as a director. And spectacular documentary-style, "you are there" photography by William H. Daniels really sets the stage (including the work around the parents coming to see the body - just artfully done), and editing that brings together studio and street-bits by Paul Weatherwax.
All in all, a worthy film to check out again sometime, even if it didn't knock me over like Night and the City, which was also a Dassin film.