Jules Dassin’s “The Naked City” is too bright and up-beat to be true film noir, but far too pessimistic and detached to be anything else. This film was shot on the streets, in the streets, and in the apartments of New York City. The narration provided by the film’s producer Mark Hellinger, gives the film a quaint, Sunday-afternoon-period-piece, time-capsule feel that is difficult to explain. In any other film such narration would seem hokey and off-hand, and at times it certainly moves close to that realm, but the documentary style of filming helps keep the movie grounded in its narration. Never once does the film feel silly to me, never once does it seem anything less than a perfect police procedural. It is my opinion that The Naked City is the antithesis of film noirs such as “Double Indemnity”, “The Maltese Falcon”, and “The Asphalt Jungle”. Those films are, in large part, about the going-ons of the criminal underworld, but The Naked City is about the revealing of that underworld. Crime happens at night, but crime fighting largely happens during the day.
Growing up I spent a lot of my time around police officers, and needless to say I recognize the men in this film. I recognize the adherence to and pride of being a detective. This men joke and seem callous, but the truth is that they must be that way to keep their sanity. It’s unfortunate, but eventually all of the dead bodies run together. If you let them all bother you it will eventually wear you down and tear you to pieces. I see Detective Dan Muldoon and I recognize men from my childhood that were very funny and fun to be around despite having seen such horrible things.
A part of my attachment to this film partly comes from the fact that it plays up the police, depicts them as heroes, and doesn’t bring them to the streets in the same way most film noirs do. This film realistically depicts men doing their jobs and doing a good job at their jobs. This film is post-war, so that was likely the intention (that is to reassure the people that they could fall back into place in society and continue to function normal, every day lives). This movie shows the city of New York as though it were a machine, and it shows how these men keep that machine running.
It also features some of the best black and white photography ever captured, and I’ll not even touch on the foot-chase across the Brooklyn Bridge — that must be seen for itself! The Naked City stands as one of my favorite films of all time. It reminds me of people that I knew growing up, while also being a frozen bit of America at a very specific time period. This film, this story, and these men can only be from 1948. It’s funny how a film can so marvelously represent its own time period while simultaneously reminding us of our own lives. The Naked City is pure American cinema, and it’s just a lot of fun to watch.
After this film, Jules Dassin would release two more American films (“Thieves Highway” in 1949 and “Night and the City” in 1950) before being blacklisted during the investigation of the House Committee of Un-American Activities. It would be five years before he was able to make another feature film, and doing so would require his moving out of the States and making foreign-language films.
Here is some information on Wikipedia regarding the Hollywood blacklist: