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Sunday, 6 October 2013


THE NAKED CITY (1948) sets out its stall from the very start, as the film's producer Mark Hellinger informs us, the audience, that we are about to watch a film 'unlike anything you have ever seen before'. He introduces himself, and many of the people involved in the making of the film, as we're treated to an aerial view of New York. Aside from breaking the fourth wall, Hellinger introduces us to the real star of the movie - the city itself. "There is a pulse to a city," he tells us, "and it never stops beating."

The city so good they named it after a giant fruit.
The streets and apartments of NYC are the sets, and eight million New Yorkers are the players. This suggests the extras are ordinary joes, rather than actual extras, and it adds a peculiar air of verisimilitude to events caught on camera. Are those boys outside the police station, who're been followed by a younger boy that stops walking when they watch him, real children or actors? Are they playing a game or picking on him? Is that organ grinder simply doing his job as characters pass by, or a man hired to play the part? And so on. Hellinger narrates throughout the film at various points, often underpinning the idea that every one in NYC has a part to play by either letting us hear their thoughts ("Sometimes I think this world is made up of nothing but dirty feet") or narrating what the character is mouthing ("Excuse me miss, have you seen this man?").

"Hoi ta toi toi toi, ye look like the incomparable Liam Neesons" etc 
The Naked City has a fine line in dialogue, whether it's the narration or actor's lines. Almost everything is quotable, and provides the film's greatest strength. "My wife always says she'd rather look in a man's heart than his head" says Muldoon, the old Irish lieutenant teamed up with younger lieutenant Halloran, as they investigate the murder of a blonde model. As the two detectives follow leads and clues, it starts to look as if incidental characters may not be so incidental after all.

An early suspect has an alibi, but his duplicitous nature makes sure the police keep an eye on him. Is he a man who lies because it's easy, or because it gets him what he wants? The friend of the dead model also piques the interest of Donahue. "She's a looker" he says to a fellow officer, "with great legs. Keep watching them." And in one simple sentence he's ordered her to be tailed without being explicit. False leads turn back in on themselves as they reveal hidden truths. Love is a motive for murder, but so is greed, and desperation. And there are eight million suspects.

This film also gives us a fat kid eating two ice creams. WINNER!
The Naked City, apart from making great use of New York itself, doesn't use an awful lot of music, which is something I admire as much, if not more, than a well-placed score. It's only really towards the end when music sets in to add drama to a, possibly hurried, denouement. The villain of the piece (though there's truly more than one) is chased by police, before ending somewhere that grants a panoramic view of New York. Then, the film fully reveals its cyclical nature as we're once again told it's 1am (as it is at the start of the film); we're shown that this city never sleeps; and we're reminded that "there are eight million stories in New York, and this has been one of them."

The film won two Oscars, for editing and cinematography, plus spawned a TV series and (in a more nebulous manner) a mental band by John Zorn. Have some of that as you get ready to live your own life, and tell your own story, in whichever city, town or village you live in.