Greetings, noiristas! It’s week two of Noirvember, a month devoted to celebrating all things film noir. This week my selection is a film that, on the surface, is merely a police procedural. But its craftsmanship makes into one of the definitive films of the genre. It’s 1948’s The Naked City.
On the surface, the plot is a simple one. Two cops are investigating an apparent suicide. In true noir fashion it turns out to be a murder.
Amid a semi-documentary portrait of New York and its people, Jean Dexter, an attractive blonde model, is murdered in her apartment. Homicide detectives Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) investigate. Suspicion falls on various shifty characters who all prove to have some connection with a string of apartment burglaries. Then a burglar is found dead who once had an elusive partner named Willie. The film ends with a tour de force manhunt.–IMDB
Like I said, it’s pretty routine. Sounds like a Law & Order episode in movie format. In fact, The Naked City paved the way for programs like Law & Order, Hill Street Blues, and many other gritty cop dramas.
What really makes The Naked City a quintessential noir film is its look. The film was shot entirely on location in New York City. That choice gives it a gritty, documentary feel. We really walk the means streets with these detectives and it unfolds like a case being investigated in real-time. The plot twists and turns never feel forced. It’s absolutely compelling from start to finish.
At the heart of the movie are two superb performances by the actors playing the detectives. There’s Barry Fitzgerald as Muldoon. Anyone that has seen a classic movie has no doubt seen Fitzgerald at some point. He was one of the hardest working character actors of the era. You may remember him from his scene-stealing performance in The Quiet Man. And Don Taylor is equally solid as Halloran. The two actors really compliment each other beautifully. Their performances suck us into the investigation.
The director of The Naked City, Jules Dassin, is no stranger to noir. He also directed the noir masterpiece Rififi (one of the best of all heist films), Thieves’ Highway, and Night and the City. All are great ways to introduce yourself to the genre.
The Naked City won an Oscar for William H. Daniels’ brilliant black and white cinematography. The editing by Paul Weatherwax and writing by Marvin Wald also were nominated. When you see this film you’ll understand quickly why all three were recognized. As far as crime movies go, they don’t get much better than The Naked City.