Naked City

The American film industry might have gotten its start in the shabby, claustrophobic East Coast studios of Thomas Edison, but by the time 1948's Naked City was released, the industry's reliance upon Hollywood sets made it fairly risky to shoot a film anywhere else. As Naked City's morbidly bemused narrator notes early on, the movie was shot entirely in New York City, and though character actor Barry Fitzgerald is given first billing in the credits, New York City is Naked City's real star. William Daniels won an Academy Award for his cinematography, and he certainly deserved it; his dazzling use of location shooting gives the film a visceral excitement that elevates it from a well-realized police procedural to something infinitely darker and more intriguing. Based on a story by Marvin Wald, Naked City portrays the police investigation that follows the murder of a sexually promiscuous, morally questionable young model. Veteran detective Fitzgerald is placed in charge of the case and, along with a slew of hard-working beat officers and junior detectives, he sets about finding the girl's killer. As Naked City's paternal but crafty protagonist, Fitzgerald is quite good, but much of the film's power is derived from its clear-eyed but affectionate view of a New York City that was still unexplored. Legendary crime photographer Weegee's photographs of New York were obviously a big influence on the filmmakers, and Weegee himself served as a consultant. Perhaps the best thing about Naked City is that it does justice to that source material. At times, it rivals Weegee's best work in its harsh, unsentimental portrayal of New York as a city with a dark side the size of the Hudson River.

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