Sunday 24 March 2024

Movie Review: The Naked City (1948)

Genre: Crime Investigation Police Procedural 
Director: Jules Dassin  
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Don Taylor, Dorothy Hart  
Running Time: 96 minutes  

Synopsis: In New York City, party girl Jean Dexter is murdered in her apartment. The police investigation is led by veteran Detective Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald), assisted by Detective Halloran (Don Taylor). The suspects include serial liar Frank Niles (Howard Duff), who is engaged to Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart), a fashion model and Jean's former work colleague. The mysterious Mr. Henderson from Baltimore is another difficult-to-find person of interest. Clues point to stolen jewelry being connected to the case, and Halloran starts to investigate the death of a jewel thief who drowned on the same night as Jean's murder.

What Works Well: Filmed entirely on location with plenty of incidental street energy, this crime mystery invests in the long days of dogged legwork required for investigators to crack a murder. The aesthetics are busy with activity, and director Jules Dassin is always on the lookout for interesting angles to leverage realistic perspectives. The promising clues and false leads are brightened by a wry Barry Fitzgerald performance, Howard Duff navigating a tortuous relationship with the truth, and producer Mark Hellinger adding sardonic Greek chorus narration. The final foot chase through the city and onto the Williamsburg Bridge is an epic thrill, adding a punctuation mark to New York's domineering presence as an essential co-star.

What Does Not Work As Well: The dedication to organic on-location settings results in some scrappy audio issues. Other than a couple of scenes featuring Halloran with his wife (Anne Sargent), none of the characters are afforded nuance. A couple of critical antagonists make late entries into the investigation, and the conspiracy explanation is rushed into a muddle. 

Conclusion: A gritty and energetic investigative mystery well-staged on sweaty streets.

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