‘Jean Dexter is dead. The answer must be somewhere down there.’, says our narrator, the film’s producer, Mark Hellinger. And he’s right. Down there, on the all too familiar streets of New York, lies the answer to Jean Dexter’s murder. And the robberies. And whether or not Frank Niles (Howard Duff) knows anything about it. And… well, you know how it goes in a film noir. Except that I’m not too sure about The Naked City (dir. Jules Dassin) being classified as noir. Sure, the title sounds like a noir. But to me, it’s more of a documentary-style crime drama than a noir. Anyway, that’s not really important. The Naked City is too significant to be boiled down to a genre. The Naked City doesn’t have a genre. It created one: the New York City genre.
As our narrator takes us through the everyday lives of our New Yorkers, complete with iconic landmarks and equally iconic sounds, little do we know that Jean Dexter is being murdered. That is, until it is brutally shown to us, in the midst of that perfectly nice montage of New York. After that, the investigation, led by Dan Muldoon (brilliantly played by Barry Fitzgerald) and Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) begins and we’re taken on a journey through crime and New York.
The Naked City is a fantastic film in itself but what really astonishes me about it, is how immensely influential it clearly is. When I was watching it, there were so many scenes and elements that reminded me of later films, such as The Big Heat (1953), The French Connection (1971), Pulp Fiction (1994), L.A. Confidential (1997), not to mention practically every Woody Allen film, including his most famous shot (from Manhattan, 1979), which you will immediately recognize as you’re watching this. But the thing is, it hardly gets any credit, in comparison with the ‘giants’ of the influential film realm. This is probably the most influential film that gets mentioned the least.
Part of its influence is, of course, the New York City motif. It has been used in countless films, but did it start here? Sure, there were movies prior to this that were set in New York and made good use of it – Street Scene (1931) comes to mind – but The Naked City delivers what it promises: New York City at its most vulnerable and…. naked. New York is the main character in The Naked City. So much so, that it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography (William H. Daniels), as well as Best Editing (Paul Weatherwax). Malvin Wald’s story was also nominated, losing out to The Search (1948). And if you’re wondering about Barry Fitzgerald failing to get a nomination… yeah, I’d like to know the answer to that as well.
There are eight million reviews about The Naked City. This has been one of them.