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"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one ofthem."
With that memorably stark declaration, producer Mark Hellinger closes one ofthe greatest film noirs of all time, Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948).The picture itself is just as hard-edged as its narration, a groundbreaking detective story shot in raw documentary style amid the bridges and concretecanyons of New York City. Nowadays, this sort of location filming iscommonplace, even on network TV. But Hellinger and Dassin were the firstfilmmakers to venture into the streets of the Big Apple to shoot amovie.
The Naked City opens in tawdry noir style, with the murder of a young model in her Manhattan apartment. We then follow the six-day investigation of herdeath, which is lead by straight-shooting Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald)and Detective James Halloran (Don Taylor.) Their often mundane police workis interspersed with quick sequences about the private lives of thedetectives and the day-to-day rumblings of New York City itself. Theinvestigation will lead to a trio of men who may have wanted the woman dead,including Frank Niles (Howard Duff), a shady type who seems to be hidingsomething even when he spills his guts to the cops. The final foot chaseacross the upper reaches of the Williamsburg Bridge is a classic sequencethat is helped immeasurably by cinematographer William Daniels' Oscar®-winningcamera work.
No doubt about it - this is one great-looking movie. Dassin and Danielsdelivered perhaps the most starkly realized movie of the 1940s. Hellingerintended the images to resemble tabloid newspaper photographs. But it wasDassin and Daniels who had the brilliant idea to shoot scenes with a camerathat was hidden inside a van, behind a tinted window. That way, the castcould cover the sidewalks without passersby even knowing they were takingpart in a movie! The results are a virtual time capsule of life in post-warNew York City.
Dassin directed other memorable films in the same mold as The NakedCity, including Brute Force (1947), Night and the City (1950), andThieves' Highway (1949). But his career in Hollywood, like so many others, would betragically cut short when he was blacklisted during the ruthlessMcCarthy-era witch hunts. Dassin took the fall rather than name namesbefore the committee...unlike several of his closest friends, includingactor Lee J. Cobb, director Elia Kazan, and playwright Clifford Odets.After moving to Europe to find film work, Dassin settled inGreece, a weary but idealistic man who later admitted to having been amember of the Communist Party, although he never aimed to espouse hisbeliefs in any of his pictures.
Nevertheless, even with Dassin at the helm, Hellinger is the mostfascinating person connected to The Naked City. A quick scan of hisbiography reads like an elaborate, Damon Runyon-inspired put-on: His firstjob was as a reporter for a theatrical publication called, mysteriouslyenough, Zit's Weekly. During prohibition, he drank copious amount ofbrandy and wrote the first-ever Broadway column, a wildly popularslice-of-life called "About Town." He soon began dressing in his lifelonguniform of dark blue shirts and white ties. He was so generous with hismoney, people would line up on pay day and wait for him to slide bills intotheir hands. In 1926, he married a beautiful showgirl whose actual name wasGladys Glad. In 1931, he wrote sketches for the Ziegfeld show, HotCha. He successfully toured the vaudeville circuit as an actor for ayear. He broadcast football games for Columbia University without knowing asingle thing about football...It goes on like that for pages.
Eventually, Hellinger wrote a couple of books that got sold to the studiosout in Hollywood. He then declared that he, too, would go to Hollywood, butnot as a mere screenwriter- he wanted to produce movies, too. After astring of forgettable B-pictures, he insisted, in 1941, that Humphrey Bogart play the lead in his production of High Sierra.The film was an indisputable classic that made Bogart a major star. Later,Hellinger would produce The Killers (1946), which introduced the world toBurt Lancaster. It was around this time that Hellinger became good friendswith Ernest Hemingway, the author of the short story on which The Killers was based.
Hellinger dropped dead from a heart attack in 1947, having lived just longenough to enjoy a successful preview of The Naked City. At long last, he finally got some sleep.
Producer: Mark Hellinger
Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Music: Miklos Rozsa and Frank Skinner
Art Design: John DeCuir
Set Design: Russell A. Gausman and Oliver Emert
Costume Design: Grace Houston
Makeup: Bud Westmore
Principal Cast: Barry Fitzgerald (Lt. Dan Muldoon), Howard Duff (FrankNiles), Dorothy Hart (Ruth Morrison), Don Taylor (Jimmy Halloran), Ted deCorsia (Garzah), House Jameson (Dr. Stoneman), Anne Sargent (Mrs. Halloran),Adelaide Klein (Mrs. Batory), Tom Pedi (Detective Perelli), Enid Markey(Mrs. Hylton), Frank Conroy (Capt. Donahue), Mark Hellinger (Narrator).
by Paul Tatara