Jules Dassin’s Naked City is a refreshing spin on the American noir detective genre of the 40s, and a turning point for all film productions. Rather than use the glossy, perfectly lit sets of films such as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, Dassin chose to use no sets, and film right in the thick of real-life New York City. Hidden cameras were used to film much of the street action to capture the essence of the city itself, lending a documentary slant, and making the beautiful art deco city an organic character in the film, rather than a stale, pref-fab backdrop.

As the film opens, and fitting with the documentary style employed by the picture, we are shown brief snippets of everyday life for a few NY civillians, one of which is our fictional story, the murder of model Jean Dexter. That the story we are witnessing is but one of the 8million stories happening around the vast city of New York, is a recurring visual and narrative theme of the film.

The documentary style shooting, while giving the film an impressive, unique flavour and style, has some disadvantages, predominantly sound. On the interior shots, the lack of a soundstage is very noticeable, and character voices are often echoing, and fighting for microphone-time with the hum of real life. On two occasions in the film I had to rewind and concentrate to decipher the dialogue. When outdoors, capturing the sound was near-impossible with the equipment and technology available to a hidden crew, and so a narrator was employed. Rather than hinder the film, the narration actually benefits it, enhancing the documentary feel, and masking much of the flatly-delivered and sometimes melodramatic dialogue of a few cast-members.

There is one exception to the dialled-in performances, and that is the exemplary Barry Fitzgerald as the heroic, aged, yet sharp as a pin Det. Lt. Dan Muldoon. While dealing with an obviously mentally ill lady who claims she knows something about the murders, Muldoon slips behind her and makes a “cuckoo!” face to the other characters, and while trying to revive an unlikeable character from unconciousness, he plants an extra hard slap on his face while no-one is looking, grinning like a naughty schoolboy. With moments of comic relief, and others of sheer guile, Fitzgerald manages to walk the line between authoritative and likeable without missing a beat, and along with the city itself, is easily the highlight of the cast.

The film’s plot is a fairly simplistic and straightforward affair, but is extremely nimble and progresses smoothly enough to be very entertaining. There are no complex twists here, instead we are treated to the facts as the police uncover them, and the “in the moment” feeling the film produces is more than satisfactory for any fans of traditional detective yarns. The finale is an exciting one, and capitalises on the films outdoor shooting style with a fantastic chase across New York, which is peppered with the most beatifully shot views of urban art deco architecture.

Overall the film was an inventive and fresh take on the genre, and despite some overly-melodramatic performances manages to remain fast-paced and entertaining. The tight direction, impressive visual style and Fitzgerald’s performance combine to elevate the film above some mediocre acting, into an entertaining movie. Recommended for genre-fans looking for something a little different to the usual Noir fare.

3.5 / 5

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