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Film / The Naked City

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"Another day, another ball of fire rising in the summer sky. The city is quiet now, but it will soon be pounding with activity. This time yesterday, Jean Dexter was just another pretty girl, but now she's the marmalade on 10,000 pieces of toast."
The Narrator

The Naked City is a 1948 American Film Noir crime thriller directed by Jules Dassin, based on a story by Malvin Wald. The cast includes Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, and Don Taylor. It also features narration from Mark Hellinger, the producer, who died of a heart attack at age 44 after seeing the film's final cut but before it released in theaters. The soundtrack was composed by Miklos Rozsa and Frank Skinner.

Set and filmed in Manhattan, the story depicts the police investigation following the murder of a young model named Jean Dexter. Jean is found in her apartment, supposedly drowned in the bathtub, but the medical examiner tells at a glance that she was sedated and drowned. NYPD Detective Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Fitzgerald) is placed in charge of the case and he sets about, with the help of other beat cops and detectives, to find the girl's killer.

The film earned Academy Awards for its black-and-white cinematography (William H. Daniels) and editing (Paul Weatherwax). In 2007 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Adapted into a weekly TV series that aired on ABC in 1958–59 and again from 1960–63.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alone with the Psycho: Played with. Newbie detective Halloran is stupid enough to go ahead and approach Garzah alone in his apartment. When Muldoon learns of this at the station he sends backup squads behind. Meanwhile, Garzah overpowers Halloran but leaves him alive and flees. The backup later manages to track down Garzah at Williamsburg Bridge.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Garzah shoots and kills a blind man's guard dog on the Williamsburg Bridge after he startles it and it attacks him. The gunshot alerts the police to his location.
  • Bitch Slap: Ruth Morrison angrily gives her fiancé Frank Niles one of these, for being involved with the jewel thefts and seeing Jean.
  • Bluff the Impostor: Muldoon asks the grocery boy where he hid the knife which he stabbed Jean Dexter with. The boy replies that he buried it. Of course, there was no knife involved in the murder and the killer should have known that.
  • Chase Scene: First Garzah is chased by Halloran fleeing from Niles' apartment but he escapes via train. At the end, Garzah is chased through the streets by a squad of policemen.
  • The City: Much of the movie's appeal comes from the depicted street life of post-war New York City.
  • Climbing Climax: The final Chase Scene ends with Garzah climbing one of the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.
  • Consummate Liar: Frank Niles, as lampshaded by Muldoon.
    "Well, Mr. Niles, I've been thirty-eight years on the force. I've been a cop on the beat. I've been with the safe and loft squad. I've been for twenty-two years with the homicide squad. But in a lifetime of interrogating and investigating, you are probably the biggest and most willing liar I ever met."
  • Death by Irony: Backalis gets killed the same way as his victim Jean Dexter — getting knocked out and then drowning to his death.
  • Disney Villain Death: Garzah falling from the tower to his death.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Halloran's wife expects him to give their young son a whipping after he walks across a busy thoroughfare, something he is very reluctant to do.
  • False Confession: The mentally unstable grocery boy confesses to have killed Jean Dexter but Muldoon convicts him of lying via Bluff the Impostor.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: The criminal Garzah has a brother who's an honest laborer and quick to give the cops information on him.
  • Graceful Loser: Zigzagged with Dr. Stoneman, who is initially resigned and professional about being caught, calmly giving his secretary some instructions, then shows despair thinking of what he'll lose, and suddenly trying to jump out the window and barely being stopped.
  • Heat Wave: The story unfolds as one of these grips New York.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Backalis, one of the killers, is conscience-stricken after the murder. He gets good and drunk and says "I'm gonna stay drunk for a long time." He's wrong about that, as his partner, later revealed to be Garzah, promptly murders him.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Dr. Lawrence Stoneman is so distraught over his prestigious life and career being destroyed when he's caught for being an accessory to burglary that he tries to jump out of an open window in his office. The detectives drag him back from it.
    Muldoon: I don't know anything about medicine, Doctor, but that's one prescription that never cured anything.
  • Invented Individual: Jean claimed a lot of her luxuries were gifts from a nonexistent brother.
  • Match Cut: From the tub spigot that the killers turn on as they're murdering Jean, to the spigot from a street cleaning truck as it scours the streets in the morning.
  • Medium Awareness: The narration by Mark Hellinger starts by saying "This film is called The Naked City", and talking about how it was all shot on location in New York rather than in movie studios.
  • The Narrator: Producer Mark Hellinger provides voiceover narration at various points during the movie.
  • Officer O'Hara: Muldoon is a classic example, Irish lilt and all.
  • One Head Taller: Halloran is one head taller than his boss Muldoon.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Jean Dexter's mother mourns this fact.
    Mother: You nurse a child, you raise it, pet it, you love it...and it ends like this.
  • Phony Veteran: Niles claims to have fought in the Pacific, but this is just another one of his many lies. Muldoon calls his bluff by bringing up a superior officer in the unit where Niles was supposedly stationed whose name Niles doesn't recognize.
  • Police Procedural: The story is told from the viewpoint of the staff working at the homicide department, and thus providing us with many of the details of daily detective work.
  • Posthumous Character: The unfortunate Jean Dexter is seen only briefly during her Plot-Triggering Death in the opening sequence, but her character is later explored during the police investigation.
  • Signing Off Catchphrase: At the end of every episode of the TV series The Narrator would intone: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them."
  • Straight Edge Evil: One of Willie Garzah's first lines is to berate Pete Backalis for getting really drunk out of guilt for helping kill Jean Dexter ("Liquor is bad. Weakens your character.") before dumping his body in the river. Later, he brags to Halloran while working out that he doesn't drink or smoke. It no doubt has to do with him being a former wrestler trying to stay in the best of shape.
  • Sunshine Noir: Instead of depicting the "dark side" of the city (rain, night, lonesome streets etc.), the film shows us a vital city in summer, mostly by day.
  • Tap on the Head: Early on Garzah does this to Backalis before dumping him into the river. Later he gives Halloran a knock-out punch from behind.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Halloran orders a cool root beer but leaves it behind on the counter when rushing to find Garzah.
  • Train Escape:
    • When being chases from Niles' home Garzah loses Halloran by boarding a subway train that leaves before the pursuer can catch up.
    • Subverted during the climax when Garzah tries to get on a bus but it's already full so he has to continue his escape on foot.

"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."
Closing Narration

Alternative Title(s): Naked City