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the naked city

Ladies and gentlemen, the motion picture you are about to see is called The Naked City. My name is Mark Hellinger. I was in charge of its production. And I may as well tell you frankly that it's a bit different from most films you've ever seen.

'The Naked City' (1948), part of a string of classic film noirs directed by Jules Dassin in the 1940s, is narrated by the film's producer, starting with its opening credits (there are no titles). Over aerial shots of Manhattan, he introduces - you'd almost say, pitches - the film.

As you see, we're flying over an island. A city. A particular city. And this is a story of a number of people - and a story also of the city itself. It was not photographed in a studio. Quite the contrary. Barry Fitzgerald, our star, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Ted de Corsia, and the other actors, played out their roles on the streets, in the apartment houses, in the skyscrapers of New York itself. And along with them, a great many thousand New Yorkers played out their roles also. This is the city as it is. Hot summer pavements, the children at play, the buildings in their naked stone, the people, without makeup.

Next comes a lengthy introductory sequence with the camera wandering through the city at night, showing a variety of people going about their lives, with the narrator interpreting what we see. In this caleidoscope of people and stories, the camera finally settles on the actual story, which starts with the dead body of a young woman.

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 story of 'The Naked City' is a straightforward crime affair, but with its emphasis on the legwork of the investigation there is a lot of room for that other story, "of the city itself". Back in the 1940s, shooting on location was rare, let alone in such a documentary way, and Hellinger (whose tone has also been described as "mildly oleaginous") rightly presents it as one of the film's unique points. The scenes on the streets of New York are alive with real people going about their daily lives, and the award winning cinematography, with its particular attention for the city's architecture, is stunning.

The films Dassin made in the 1940s, which also include 'Brute Force' (1947), 'Thieves' Highway' (1949) and 'Night and the City' (1950), share a potent mixture of film noir and neorealism - stark tales of seduction and corruption, but also realistic slices of life depicting ordinary people and their struggles to stay afloat.

'The Naked City' just seems to characterize this specific style best, if only for its ending - somehow compassionate and disinterested at the same time - when the narrator wraps things up with what became a catchphrase:

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


Rififi is French slang for 'trouble', 'brawl' or 'rough-and-tumble'. The word was made popular by the 1955 film ' Rififi ', or in full 'Du Rififi chez les Hommes', based on the novel by Auguste Le Breton and directed by Jules Dassin . … Read the full post »

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