Combustible Celluloid
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With: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy, Ted de Corsia, House Jameson, Anne Sargent, Adelaide Klein, Grover Burgess, Tom Pedi, Enid Markey, Walter Burke, Virginia Mullen, Mark Hellinger (narrator)
Written by: Albert Maltz, Malvin Wald, based on a story by Malvin Wald
Directed by: Jules Dassin
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/04/1948

The Naked City (1948)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Getting a Clue

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A beautiful blonde model is murdered by two men. A housekeeper discovers the body, which was left in a tub full of water. The housekeeper pinpoints a man who was a sometime visitor of the young woman. The police bring him in, but he has an alibi. The case looks to be stuck fast, with nowhere else to go, but veteran police lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his young protege Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) keep hammering at it until cracks appear. The Naked City is a classic police procedural, brilliantly told, with the tiniest details seeming like huge breakthroughs. It includes savvy little emotional touches, such as the appearance of the dead woman's bitter parents, ashamed of her recent behavior and life choices, but still mourning the loss of their little girl.

Fitzgerald seems to be the only Hollywood-like thing here, but even he fits right into the gritty proceedings. Howard Duff is terrific as the loathsome Frank Niles, who lies like he breathes, and Dorothy Hart is Ruth Morrison, another model who knew the victim. It was directed by crime expert Jules Dassin (Thieves' Highway, Rififi) and produced/narrated by newspaperman Mark Hellinger, and its location photography and realism are worn like badges of honor. I like it a little less than the procedurals that Anthony Mann and John Alton made the same year (T-Men and Raw Deal), but it's still an intelligent, gripping film. It won Oscars for its black-and-white cinematography and its editing, and the story by Malvin Wald received a nomination.

The Criterion Collection released the film on a snazzy Blu-ray edition for 2020 (along with Dassin's Brute Force). Bonus features, carried over from the 2007 DVD release, include a commentary track from 1996 featuring screenwriter Malvin Wald, an interview with film scholar Dana Polan, an interview with author James Sanders on the film's New York locations, footage (with unfortunately muffled audio) of director Jules Dassin from a 2004 appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and a stills gallery. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by author and critic Luc Sante and production notes from producer Hellinger.

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