Not having seen "The Naked City" in quite some time, the opportunity of watching it again was a pleasure, when TCM showed it last night. This satisfying 1948 film brings us back to the way New York, and especially Manhattan looked at that time. The Lower East Side, especially, in all its chaotic splendor offers a nostalgic look to our past.
It took the genius of Jules Dassin to see the opportunities for bringing this story by Malvin Wald to the screen. Albert Maltz worked on the screen play with Mr. Wald and the result is a movie that shows the diverse culture of the city. Although the film is about crime in New York City, there are aspects of it that shows how most of what we see is interconnected. This film was the basis for a successful, and innovative television series that showed a different crime story every week and how the NYPD dealt with solving the cases.
The film starts with a drunk being knocked out and thrown into the river. A woman is discovered dead in her bathtub by her maid. It's determined chloroform was involved in her death. Enter Lt. Muldoon, whose precinct gets involved in the investigation. Muldoon and his right hand man, Det. Jimmy Halleran, also find out jewelry is missing. The dead woman Jean Dexter, a fashion model, leads the police to a Dr. Stoneman, a man that loved her. At the same time, another detective discovers a cigarette case that points to another man, Frank Niles, who also appears to be involved. The drunk in the river was a jewelry thief and he, in turn, points to Harmonica Willie, a tough guy with a criminal record.
All the elements come together in a great finale that involves a chase on the Williamsburg bridge. Jules Dassin decided to bring his cameras to the streets showing what a real New York looked like and got an excellent performance from most of the people that had no idea they were providing themselves as extras for the film. William Daniels, Greta Garbo's favorite cameraman, and distinguished a director himself, photographed the city in all its glory.
All the principals do an excellent work in the film. Barry Fitzgerald as Lt. Muldoon shows in fine form. Don Taylor plays Jimmy Halleran. A fine performance from a young Howard Duff, as Frank Niles, is one of the best things in the picture. Ted DeCorsia is seen as a criminal who loves to keep in shape and play his harmonica.
But what made the film fun for this viewer are the uncredited faces in the picture. We spotted Paul Ford, John Randolph, Nehemiah Persoff, Molly Picon, David Opatashu, and other character actors of that era. It says a lot about their generosity in appearing without being mentioned, something that today would appear unimaginable.
Credit must go to Jules Dassin for this enormously satisfying movie!
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