The narrator intones, "There are eight million stories in the naked city " as the film begins with scenes of the quiet city in the early hours after midnight. We are introduced to those who are working the third shift in a city that never sleeps. We know that we are not seeing a studio, for the "actors" – those who populate the great city of New York – are eventually observed in apartments, skyscrapers, factories, restaurants, coffee shops, parks, docks, and sidewalks. The city is hot in the summer. During the beginning narration, an unconscious blonde model is being murdered at the young age of 26 years. Within four hours, one of the two murderers kills the other and throws his body into the river. A few hours after that, the cleaning lady enters Miss Dexter's apartment, sees the body in a bathtub, and screams. Now our story takes hold. The police are quickly on the scene, and the newspapers follow. Before long the police examiner determines that the promiscuous woman's death was not by accident or suicide, but by homicide.
Soon the lawmen discover that the dissolute woman was part of a jewel burglary ring that targeted the rich folks. Frank Niles, disreputable and a pathological liar, and Jean Dexter were part of the set-ups. Also a famous doctor is involved. In reality this film is a routine detective story. It involves the somewhat tedious but difficult – and sometimes dangerous – police work of investigation, of gathering information and piecing it all together. But the detectives and police are dedicated heroes who do their jobs with little complaint. It all comes down to a climax that involves an exciting city-wide dragnet for the arch-killer. Unfortunately for him, he is unable to board an overcrowded bus that would have taken him away from the targeted area. A panicked gunshot at a seeing-eye dog alerts police, and the ending occurs at the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Case closed.
As for Jean Dexter, "her name, her face, her history were worth five cents a day for six days." Now, with the case over, the old newspapers lying in the streets are cleaned up by the city trash men. Dexter is soon forgotten by virtually all, for there are eight million other stories brewing. A very few, including Dexter's grief-stricken parents, will never forget. The next day another story will reach the headlines, and our police heroes will be ready to solve another crime.
Alhtough Muldoon spearheads the investigation, he is assisted by Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor); there are other detectives, like Constantino and Perelli, although they have lesser roles. The Irish brogue of Barry Fitzgerald (Det. Lt. Dan Muldoon) can be a bit overpowering, but the pint-sized detective does deliver his lines with knowledge and charm. And is he shrewd! Howard Duff plays sleaze Frank Niles, and Ted DeCorsia is a wicked Willie Garzah. The film's producer, Mark Hellinger, narrates.
Shot on location on New York City streets in secret, and semi-documentary in style, the film is ground-breaking. It was obviously the inspiration of the later TV series, "Naked City" (1958-1963), and even "Dragnet" before that. The black and white photography is so good that the movie earned an Academy Award. Another award was won for film editing. While the old-time life of the city has changed, many of the police procedures seen are obviously in use today. If the plot seems standard or if the story appears boring at times, remember that detailed police procedure works the same way: constant probing, questioning, checking, and rechecking. Much less often does it consist of high speed chases and slam-bang shoot-outs. Who is the real hero of the story? Why the personality of the city of New York, of course!
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