Retro Review - The Naked City (1948)


Directed by: Jules Dassin
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor
Aided by documentary style narration we follow the investigation into a young woman's murder.

In the late forties a new movie audience appeared in America, one hardened and made cynical by the horrors of the war. Hollywood reacted by producing the most brutal and pessimistic mainstream cinema since the pre-code era. Even by today's standards the violence in this movie is sadistic. In the first couple of minutes two thugs put a young woman's corpse into a full bath "just to be sure", then one of the thugs is drowned in the river by his partner.
This movie is groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. It was one of the first features to be shot on the streets of New York. There are several moments where you can spot bystanders staring at the camera in bewilderment. The most interesting facet of the film is it's juxtaposing of minority figures and "Middle Americans". Up to this point ethnic minorities in Hollywood cinema were either villains or stereotypes used to generate cheap laughs. The heroes of this piece are immigrant cops and the central victim is a Polish girl who we are told changed her name to "Dexter" upon arrival in the States. The characters under suspicion are mainly WASPy types. At one point Fitzgerald's Irish cop refers to a suspect as a "clean cut, All-American boy".
Barry Fitzgerald was born in Dublin and his world-weary detective is probably to this day the most realistic portrayal of an Irishman in a Hollywood movie, full of sarcasm and frankly taking the piss out of everyone around him. If only Sean Connery had studied his performance before making "The Untouchables".
This is by no means a classic, in the pantheon of Film Noir it ranks very low for me. It is a curiosity piece though and if you're a Noir completist it's worth checking out.
Spike Lee paid homage by stealing the movie's closing line for his "Summer Of Sam".
They say there are eight million stories in the Naked City, this is a mildly enjoyable one.
6/10

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