“There’s your city, Holloran. Take a good look. Jean Dexter is dead, and the answer must be somewhere down there.” The Dragnet-style narrator sums up the style and summery of The Naked City as Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) looks out at the steel and mortar buildings of New York City in all its celluloid brilliance. Jules Dassin brings the heartbeat of Gotham to his noir-crime procedural. Dassin’s documentary style brings an immediacy and an originality to a film with a central mystery that a 5-year old could solve.
A woman has been killed and her jewelry burgled. Homicide Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his young protégé Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) are sent to investigate the murder. None of the characters are memorable except for the wise cracking Lt. Muldoon. The short Irishman compensates for his lack of vertical height with a wicked sense of humor. The unintended effect of one note detectives and policemen surrounding Muldoon is that he comes off as one of the most memorable characters in any film-noir or film.
The opening of the film shows different “scenes” in the giant metropolis narrated by the producer Mark Hellinger (who died of a heart attack before the film was released) with his hard-boiled New York accent and a nod to radio crime procedurals narration, like Dragnet. The opening rivals Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) with its black and white cinematography of New York. Cinematographer William H. Daniels was nominated for his work on the film. The unsuspecting New Yorkers filmed in the movie lends a realism to the film that relies heavily on the pulse of the city and the Detective that must scour the streets to find the killer. Watching the film almost seventy years after its release allows us to view a time capsule of New York in the late forties. The milk is delivered by a horse-drawn carriage to tenement houses. The film concludes in a terrific on-foot chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge that is reminiscent of its successor The French Connection (1971) with its docu-style camerawork. The Naked City is unique in its style and use of 1948 New York City and worth a watch for a film lover or historian.