The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948)

So the big selling point of “The Naked City” is that, allegedly, no soundstages or studios were used.  It was, allegedly, filmed entirely on location in New York City, from the streets to the back alleys to the fire escapes to the bridges to apartments and police stations and stores, so that, seemingly, this hardboiled, noir-ish tale of detectives hunting down the killer of a playgirl is lent an extra dose of reality (at least that’s what we’re told in a completely unnecessary and superfluous narration…by the film’s producer).  Alright, that’s a nifty enough concept.  Too bad it doesn’t really work out that way.

I mean, you hear a concept like that, and you’d think that Jules Dassin was going for Italian Neorealism in America, which would’ve been REALLY cool.  Unfortunately, to succeed with Italian Neorealism, you kinda need, you know, realism, and “The Naked City” has little of that, particularly with the actors.  It’s a typical, predictable police procedural, with even more predictable character types and clichéd performances, from the animalistic brute of a villain to the bland and emotionless chief suspect and his woman to the righteous, sarcastic Irish lieutenant (with a slapstick-ish scene with jolly music where the rookie detective and his wife argue over the benefits of hitting their kid or something thrown in for good measure.  Weird…).  Vittorio de Sica was really on to something in “Bicycle Thieves” and “Umberto D.” by casting non-actors in his lead roles to eek out every ounce of realism in his films’ performances, but this grand little experiment in American neorealism just misses the boat with the lackluster, unconvincing actors and bland mystery story, which somehow achieves the remarkable accomplishment of being nearly impossible to follow, yet having some of the most predictable twists I’ve ever seen.  Never would’ve thought something like that to be possible…

Those moments of on-location realism that were supposedly the film’s big selling points are unfortunately rare, and far and few between the procedural plot, but some of them are nice…little moments like the kids playing with the open fire hydrant, or swimming in the river (where a body is soon found), or scenes of bustling streets and stores and restaurants and a cool foot chase across the bridge that serves as the big climax.  But, those are little more than bookends…most scenes occur indoors, in rooms that look an awful lot like rooms in any other film, so that if I didn’t know about the whole on-location stunt, I would’ve dismissed this as any other police procedural, and it’s why I was suspicious from the start that I was looking at sets.  Well, if these were real apartments and such, then that just means I gotta give massive props to the production designers and set designers from other films back in that day, ‘cuz I couldn’t tell the difference between these and any other studio set. 

But in the end, “The Naked City” doesn’t live up to that hype that Mr. Producer tells us it lives up to.  Dassin clearly tries to make New York the film’s most compelling character, but something gets lost in translation.  Shame, really, considering how you’d think that New York, with its glittering lights as well as its impoverished areas, and its abundance of many different cultures and classes, would be completely conducive to that type of neorealism.  “The Third Man” succeeded 10,000% in turning a ruined, post-war Vienna into a compelling character in its own right just a year after this, but the ‘real’ New York of “The Naked City” resides only in this outdoor shot or that, thrown into a bland mystery story just so the film can try to claim that it’s unique.  Those obvious on-location scenes are cool, and do lend a bit of a feeling of realism, but really the whole thing’s just a gimmick when those moments just complement an otherwise ordinary police procedural: an attempt at neorealism with a story and actors that are far from realistic.  Meh.

6.5/10

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1 comment so far

  1. film izle on

    thanks


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