MUTINYS OWN, Henning Snell reviews a great film of 1948
“Have a beer on me, Sam, and throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder; this case is beginnin’ to move!”
Jules Dassin’s Naked City Bares All
Every once in a while I stumble across a flick that’s more like a 20th century American history class than a movie -- the kind of stuff Ken Burns fans drool over when they’re not watching Dustbowl or Baseball. The Naked City is filmed on location, pseudo-documentary style. The extras are all real folks going about their daily business; the scenery is actual. Throw in some authentic dialogue -- you know, the stuff that really reflects the romance and the cornball naivety of the time -- and it’s practically a damned ethnography of The Big Apple in the late 40s.
There’s a drug-addled model / dead broad, a thieving liar, a snarky widower, a family man and one on the run. A drunk in the east river. The NYPD. And the city. It’s a murder-mystery-history-lesson.
The narrator, who also identifies himself as the film’s producer (a weird sortof ‘breaking the fourth wall’ type move that bolsters the reality of the setting) makes it his job to reiterate an important theme: population. There’s a hell of a lot of people in NYC, and this guy gives us little glimpses into some of their inner monologues before putting us at the scene of a brutal homicide in progress. Come morning, the blood-curdling scream of said dead chick’s maid is the jump-off for a full-blown investigation.
The key for Detective Dan Muldoon is knowing that everyone is an anonymous albeit integral part of the New York organism - illustrated by the exhausting manhunt later in the picture. One good angle, one question to the right shmo, and a hopeless search for a needle in a damned haystack is a little more plausible.
That said, Muldoon has to weed through his fair share of red herrings. Dassin rolls out some of the bona fide crazies in the city -- I’d say as comic relief, even: the old bag who thinks she’s a bombshell 20-something and can solve the case in a pinch; the sociopath who wants to take credit for murkin’ the blonde.
Just when Muldoon’s deputy is losing steam, right when he’s at his wit’s end (might have something to do with the herringbone tweed he’s wearing in the NYC summer heat), right when he’s resigned to have a cold root beer, the soda shop clerk gives him the tip he needs - the harmonica-playing-boxing-champ lives on this block.
The Naked City - the title owns up to the gruesome scandal it advertises. The recipe: sex, drugs, jewels and guns. Set in real life.