Updated: Mar 27, 2021
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Homicide Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor, left) and Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald, center) pursue a murder suspect to the Williamsburg Bridge. The gripping chase is the final act in “The Naked City.”
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“THE NAKED CITY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION”
Blu-ray, 1948, unrated, mild violence
Best extra: A 2006 interview with architect James Sanders, author of “Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies”
YOU WON’T FIND the biggest stars of this seminal police procedural listed anywhere in the credits. They’re the alchemists at TLEFilms Film Restoration & Preservation Services in Berlin, who remastered it in 4K for its Criterion re-release.
It was a formidable challenge. Over the years, as ownership changed hands, “The Naked City” was spliced, diced and then some, but, using footage from four separate elements – primarily a 35 mm fine-grain master positive courtesy of the British Film Institute and a safety duplicate negative – the crew put all the pieces together again, a painstaking, two-year process that paid off in spades.
The story plays out seamlessly. The print (1.37:1 aspect ratio) is spotless and stable. Contrasts are sharp, the grayscale is broad, blacks are solid, the grain is consistent and the detail pops at practically every turn. You’d never guess this movie has been around for 72 – seventy-two – years.
Its other star, of course is New York itself, and without the handiwork of the magicians in Berlin, the Naked City might have come off as just another place.
(1) Aspiring model Jean Dexter is attacked in her apartment. (2&3) Director Jules Dassin and cinematographer William Daniels took their cameras to 107 locations around New York to capture the pulse of the city. (4) Halloran gives his wife a kiss good-bye before hitting the streets.
As architect and author James Sanders explains in a fascinating interview included on the disc, NYC always loomed large in the movies, beginning when Thomas Edison and other pioneers set up their cameras outside to shoot actuality films (unstructured footage of real places and events) at the turn of the 20th century. The first story films appeared in the 19teens, but the arrival of the talkies pretty much brought movie-making in New York to a halt: The city was too noisy and the logistics were a bear.
Instead, Sanders says, New York became a “mythic presence” that was created on Hollywood’s back lots. Though Billy Wilder and other filmmakers returned in the mid-1940s to shoot “bits and pieces” of their movies, “The Naked City,” he says, was “the great watershed.”
Taking a cue from the Italian neorealists, director Jules Dassin (“Brute Force,” “Night and the City,” “Rififi”) and Oscar-winning cinematographer William H. Daniels hit the streets, filming at 107 locations that included precinct houses, uptown offices and even the Bellevue Hospital mortuary. Those sequences, though, were more confined; when the filmmakers ventured into the pulsing Lower East Side, often shooting from moving vans or using hidden cameras, the “fullness of [their] portrait” emerged, Sanders says.
(1) The housekeeper discovers Dexter’s body in the bathtub. (2&3) Muldoon and Halloran arrive at the murder scene and learn that the body has been moved to the bedroom by the building superintendent. (4) Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart), Dexter’s friend, is shocked by the news.
Their timing was also important: It was filmed in 1947, a year or so before the advent of television.
With it, “the rhythm of life changed in big cities. People left the streets,” he says. Dassin and Daniels “caught New York in those last moments.”
“Motion pictures were made for New York and New York was made for motion pictures. ‘The Naked City’ was such a good fit [because it showed what the city] looked like and what it felt like – its social complexity, its urgency, its endlessness.”
It also delivers a good story.
When a young model is drowned in her bathtub, the investigation lands in the lap of Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald, “Going My Way”), a 22-year Homicide veteran. With Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor, “Stalag 17”) doing the legwork, the pieces fall into place: A Park Avenue doctor (House Jameson, the “Naked City” TV series), who was obsessed with the model, was giving her tips on his patients that she passed on to onetime suitor Frank Niles (Howard Duff, “Brute Force”). The patients’ jewelry was later stolen by two-bit crook Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia, “The Killing”), but the scheme unravels when Niles starts hocking the goods. Garzah murders the model and tries to kill Niles.
Acting on a hunch that takes him into the shops and onto the streets of the Lower East Side, Halloran tracks down Garzah. The movie concludes with a foot chase on the Williamsburg Bridge, a gripping sequence that ends with a sweeping shot of the distant skyline.
(1) Neighborhood children cool off in front of NYPD’s Precinct 10. (2) Frank Niles (Howard Duff, center), a habitual liar and Dexter’s onetime suitor, is brought in for questioning. (3&4) Halloran reads about the murder on his way home to Queens, but only has a quick moment with his wife (Anne Sargent) before he has to head out again.
(1) Dexter’s estranged parents are taken to the Bellevue Hospital mortuary to identify their daughter’s body. (2) A stolen ring that had been worn by Dexter is returned to its owner (Enid Markey). (3&4) Ruth, who is engaged to Niles, and the detectives find him unconscious in his apartment. Halloran chases the suspect but he gets away on the subway.
“There are 8 million stories in the Naked City,” says producer/narrator Mark Hellinger. “This has been one of them.”
Has it ever.
The TLEFilms crew didn’t stop with the video – the soundtrack was also remastered, mostly from a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain variable-density track and the 35 mm original sound negative. No surprise that it’s still funneled through the center speaker, but the dialogue is plenty clear and the score by Miklos Rozsa (“Ben-Hur”) and Frank Skinner (“The House of the Seven Gables”) holds up just fine.
Besides the Sanders interview, other extras include a commentary with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Malvin Wald, footage from an appearance by Dassin at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an interview with film scholar Dana Polan, stills and a booklet that includes a so-so essay by author/critic Luc Sante and Hellinger’s notes to Dassin on the concluding chase. All are from previous releases.
– Craig Shapiro
(1) New York’s finest are shown a photograph of the suspect, a two-bit crook and former wrestler named Willie Garzah. (2&3) Halloran calls in to say that he’s closing in on Garzah (Ted de Corsia), who takes the detective’s gun during a confrontation in his seedy apartment. (4&7) The investigation ends with a chase on the historic Williamsburg Bridge. Spanning the East River between the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, it was completed in 1903 and at one time was the world’s longest suspension bridge.