At the time of its release, "The Naked City" was a contemporary offering in the sense that it utilised the "docu-noir" and "Italian neorealist" styles which were popular during the late 1940s. More significantly, however, it was also incredibly innovative and influential because, not only was it the first movie to be shot entirely on-location in New York City but also it's widely acknowledged as being the first movie to show in detail, the very routine nature of a police investigation. This effectively paved the way for all the police procedural films that followed and so its significance in cinema history is difficult to overstate.
The role that the city plays is enormous as its presence and characteristics are re-emphasised repeatedly throughout the film. The use of location shooting, views of the subways and non-professionals in some of the supporting roles, all add authenticity to the action and shots of children at play, street vendors and busy streets convey a strong sense of the vitality of the city and its relentless nature.
When the dead body of a beautiful young woman is found in her apartment by her housekeeper, Detective Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his young partner, Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) are assigned to the case. After the medical examiner confirms that Jean Dexter (who was a model), had been murdered, Muldoon questions the housekeeper, Martha Swenson (Virginia Mullen) about her employer's friends and this leads to Frank Niles (Howard Duff), Dr Lawrence Stoneman (House Jameson) and Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart) all being interviewed by the detectives.
Niles had been one of the victim's ex-boyfriends who had since become engaged to Ruth Morrison. He proves to be an inveterate liar and further checks establish that he'd sold a gold cigarette case that had been stolen from Dr Stoneman and that his fiancée's engagement ring had also been stolen. Dr Stoneman confirms that he had prescribed the sleeping tablets that had been found in the victim's apartment and Ruth Morrison, a model who'd worked with Dexter, is soon regarded as not being involved in any wrongdoing.
Further investigations reveal that Jean Dexter and Frank Niles had been involved in arranging jewellery thefts and that they had hired other criminals to actually carry out the robberies. This information then leads to the killer's identity and motive finally being discovered.
The police officers in this movie are depicted as being good humoured, scrupulously honest and not at all cynical. Muldoon is a very friendly and experienced detective who has spent most of his career dealing with homicide investigations and Barry Fitzgerald is amusing but also sometimes a little over-the-top in the way that he portrays this Irishman. Don Taylor is good in his role as Halloran who is Muldoon's very enthusiastic and well-meaning partner and Howard Duff provides some moments of humour in his excellent performance as the disreputable Niles who is unable to open his mouth without telling a series of lies. Ted de Corsia also makes a strong impression in his minor part as a harmonica-playing wrestler!
Producer Mark Hellinger's narration is very dated but Jules Dassin's direction and the quality of William H Daniels' Oscar-winning cinematography are both very impressive. Another outstanding highlight of this film is the final chase sequence which is both exciting and brilliantly choreographed.
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