Naked City [1948]

"Ladies and gentlemen, the motion picture you are about to see is called The Naked City." With a helicopter shot slowly closing in on Manhattan, producer Mark Hellinger's staccato narration introduces the film ("It was not photographed in a studio . . .") and continues throughout like a documentary commentator with a literary flair. It's a conceit that serves this police story nicely, giving the patina of realism to this deglamorized look at the work of the homicide squad. Barry Fitzgerald reigns over the film with his jovial good humor as a veteran detective investigating the murder of a high-living model. He has few clues and fewer suspects, until he cracks the story of big-talking Howard Duff and throws some light on his shady past. Jules Dassin, who had just come off the shadowy, expressionist Brute Force, peels away those flourishes to shoot in a straightforward style influenced by the Italian neo-realists and the contemporary American newsreels. The film is rich in supporting performances by soon-to-be-famous character actors--Arthur O'Connell, James Gregory, Paul Ford--but the city itself becomes the film's most vivid character. Shot entirely on location in New York City, the distinctive cityscape looms over practically every shot and injects the film with a defining sense of place (cinematographer William Daniels won an Oscar for his work). You can see the roots of The French Connection in the bustling city scenes and the exciting foot chase finale on an elevated walkway. --Sean Axmaker

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