Review: The Naked City (1948)

the naked city

Thinking of naked cities gives me a weird feeling, very weird!

Screenplay By: Albert Maltz & Malvin Wald
Directed By: Jules Dassin

The Naked City is a haunting film, both in its visuals and its story. The visuals give an idea of the enormity of a big city and how easy it is for people to not matter in such a city. We hear over and over how special Jean Dexter is, but we are barely offered a glimpse of her noteworthiness. She disappears into the background almost immediately. Her murder is what matters, but even that is fleeting. The large structures of the city, the hustle and bustle of its many citizens, that’s what matters most. That’s where the camera focuses, because next to the scope of the city one women, no matter how special, is insignificant.

The story adds to the humanity as an insect motif by rocket firing through most of the appearances. We don’t even get to hear the words of the corner pharmacist, his voice is puny and not needed next to the hum of the city. Even the characters we do spend time with, like Dan Muldoon, we learn next to nothing about. We learn more about the city, its immensity, the many citizens who do inhabit it than we do the lead detective trying to solve a murder. Were The Naked City a long running televisions series like say, Bones, I have no doubt we would discover more about Muldoon. But, the brevity of the medium of film allows for Muldoon to be a mystery in the story. A murder has occurred, and he must solve it. The Naked City gives the distinct impression that we are spending a day in the life of the city, not in the lives of the characters.

I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about the narration. I really disliked it in the opening few minutes, when it was attempting to be meta and talk about the actual film itself. Later I felt that the narration became workable. It wasn’t great, but I could see the purpose it was serving and it did offer up a damn great line near the end of the film, “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” However, the more I think about the narration the more I do not like how overbearing it is. I think the film could have worked just fine without as much of the narration, keep it in place as a bookend device, but remove it telling me what I can already see characters doing on screen.

The Naked City is an interesting blend of film noir and police procedural. I’m not sure if it ever completely ties the two styles together but Jules Dassin does manage to find moments of haunting beauty in the attempt to blend. The city is a great character in The Naked City, but it’s let down by the accompanying narration and a feeling that what we are watching is a tad too slight. I enjoyed The Naked City, there’s a lot to like about the film, but overall I felt like I was being told that I was eating a frilly diced tomato while I was already in the middle of eating said frilly diced tomato.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: The Naked City (1948)

  1. Nice review! And guess what? It ended up becoming a TV series after all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naked_City_%28TV_series%29

  2. That’s interesting, and it makes a lot of sense given the way the material is treated in the film.

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