Ahh, the Screenplay Oscars. Has there ever been a more confusing Academy Award category? Starting with the very first ceremony in 1929, they have had many iterations, names and categories over the years, some of them defunct these days. But one thing that’s interesting is that, in 1949, the Original and Adapted categories, already a thing since 1940, were turned into one with several nominees that fell into either category. And then there was the Best Motion Picture Story, which they classified essentially as the best story on paper, rather than the screenplay it became. Soooo darn confusing! Anyway, at the 1949 Oscars, John Huston won the Best Screenplay Oscar for The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948, dir. Huston) and Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler won Best Motion Picture Story for The Search (1948, dir. Fred Zinnemann). One of the other nominees in the latter category was The Naked City (1948, dir. Jules Dassin), which I covered a few years ago. I always thought that, if they hadn’t put Original and Adapted together, The Naked City could have easily won Original Screenplay (I mean, does it count? I don’t know anymore). Written by Malvin Wald and Albert Maltz, The Naked City takes us through the streets of New York City as our detectives, played by Barry Fitzgerald and Don Taylor, try to uncover the truth about Jean Dexter’s murder. Like any self-respecting film noir (more on the police procedural side of things in this case), The Naked City has some amazing lines. Here are three of them:
- ‘Jean Dexter is dead. And the answer must be somewhere down there.’ Narrator (the film’s producer Mark Hellinger) – With its straight-forward nature, this is one of those films where the voice-over narration really works. And this particular line is probably the most poignant as it reminds us of what’s at stake.
- ‘Thought you were off the liquor. Liquor is bad. Weakens your character. How can a man like me trust a liar like you? I can’t.’ Willie Garza (Ted de Corsia) – The brutal nature of this scene, right in the first ten minutes of the film, is pretty daunting and it takes exactly where The Naked City wants us to go.
- ‘There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.’ Narrator – A now iconic line thanks to the television adaptation, this is simply one of the very best closing lines in film history.
Happy Oscars season!