The Naked City
Cast & Crew
In the late hours of a hot New York summer night, jewel thieves Willie Garzah and Peter Backalis kill Jean Dexter, an ex-model, then place her body in her bathtub. When Backalis gets drunk after the murder, Garzah kills him, then dumps his body in the East River. Later, Homicide detective Dan Muldoon and his young associate, Jimmy Halloran, are assigned to Jean's case, which the medical examination has determined was murder, not an accident. While Dan interrogates Martha Swenson, Jean's housekeeper, about Jean's boyfriends, Jimmy questions Dr. Lawrence Stoneman, Jean's physician, and Ruth Morrison, another model. Back at the police station, Dan questions Frank Niles, Jean's ex-boyfriend, who lies about everything, including his current engagement to Ruth. Later, Dan determines from the bruises on Jean's neck that she was killed by two men. That evening, Mr. and Mrs. Batory, Jean's estranged parents, arrive in New York to formally identify the body, and tell the detectives that they have no knowledge of Jean's acquaintances.
The next morning, the detectives learn that Frank sold a gold cigarette case stolen from Stoneman, then purchased a one-way airline ticket to Mexico. They also discover that Jean's ring was stolen from the wealthy Mrs. Hylton, Ruth's mother. Learning that Ruth's engagement ring is also stolen property, Dan and Jimmy rush to Frank's apartment, where they save him from being murdered by Garzah. The killer escapes onto the nearby subway train, however, and when questioned about the stolen jewelry, Frank claims that they were all presents from Jean. Frank is then arrested for robbery, but the murder case remains open. When Backalis' body is found, Jimmy attempts to connect the ex-convict to Jean's murder. Through further investigation, Jimmy discovers that Backalis' accomplice on a jewelry store robbery was Garzah. While Jimmy canvases the Bronx with an old wrestling photograph of Garzah, Dan forces Frank to admit that Stoneman was Jean's mystery boyfriend and goes by the name Henderson.
Back at Stoneman's office, the married physician confesses that he fell in love with Jean, only to learn that she and Frank were using him in order to rob his society friends. Frank then admits that Garzah killed Jean and Backalis. Meanwhile, Jimmy attempts to arrest Garzah by himself, but is knocked unconscious by the homicidal wrestler. A panicked Garzah then draws attention to himself when he shoots and kills a blind man's guide dog. Trapped atop a bridge, Garzah refuses to surrender to the police and is shot, then falls to his death.
Ted De Corsia
Charles P. Thompson
G. Pat Collins
Henri D. Foster
William E. Green
Janie Leslie Alexander
Mildred E. Stronger
Richard W. Shankland
Maureen La Torella
Charles La Torella
John Joseph Mulligan
Judith Susan Locker
Norma Jane Marlowe
Diane Pat Marlowe
Leslie I. Carey
John F. Decuir
Russell A. Gausman
Vernon W. Kramer
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Naked City
With that memorably stark declaration, producer Mark Hellinger closes one of the 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 concrete canyons of New York City. Nowadays, this sort of location filming is commonplace, even on network TV. But Hellinger and Dassin were the first filmmakers to venture into the streets of the Big Apple to shoot a movie.
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 her death, which is lead by straight-shooting Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Detective James Halloran (Don Taylor.) Their often mundane police work is interspersed with quick sequences about the private lives of the detectives and the day-to-day rumblings of New York City itself. The investigation 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 hiding something even when he spills his guts to the cops. The final foot chase across the upper reaches of the Williamsburg Bridge is a classic sequence that is helped immeasurably by cinematographer William Daniels' Oscar®-winning camera work.
No doubt about it - this is one great-looking movie. Dassin and Daniels delivered perhaps the most starkly realized movie of the 1940s. Hellinger intended the images to resemble tabloid newspaper photographs. But it was Dassin and Daniels who had the brilliant idea to shoot scenes with a camera that was hidden inside a van, behind a tinted window. That way, the cast could cover the sidewalks without passersby even knowing they were taking part in a movie! The results are a virtual time capsule of life in post-war New York City.
Dassin directed other memorable films in the same mold as The Naked City, including Brute Force (1947), Night and the City (1950), and Thieves' Highway (1949). But his career in Hollywood, like so many others, would be tragically cut short when he was blacklisted during the ruthless McCarthy-era witch hunts. Dassin took the fall rather than name names before the committee...unlike several of his closest friends, including actor Lee J. Cobb, director Elia Kazan, and playwright Clifford Odets. After moving to Europe to find film work, Dassin settled in Greece, a weary but idealistic man who later admitted to having been a member of the Communist Party, although he never aimed to espouse his beliefs in any of his pictures.
Nevertheless, even with Dassin at the helm, Hellinger is the most fascinating person connected to The Naked City. A quick scan of his biography reads like an elaborate, Damon Runyon-inspired put-on: His first job was as a reporter for a theatrical publication called, mysteriously enough, Zit's Weekly. During prohibition, he drank copious amount of brandy and wrote the first-ever Broadway column, a wildly popular slice-of-life called "About Town." He soon began dressing in his lifelong uniform of dark blue shirts and white ties. He was so generous with his money, people would line up on pay day and wait for him to slide bills into their hands. In 1926, he married a beautiful showgirl whose actual name was Gladys Glad. In 1931, he wrote sketches for the Ziegfeld show, Hot Cha. He successfully toured the vaudeville circuit as an actor for a year. He broadcast football games for Columbia University without knowing a single thing about football...It goes on like that for pages.
Eventually, Hellinger wrote a couple of books that got sold to the studios out in Hollywood. He then declared that he, too, would go to Hollywood, but not as a mere screenwriter- he wanted to produce movies, too. After a string 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 to Burt Lancaster. It was around this time that Hellinger became good friends with 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 long enough 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 (Frank Niles), Dorothy Hart (Ruth Morrison), Don Taylor (Jimmy Halloran), Ted de Corsia (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
The Naked City
Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th
Sunday, April 20th
8:00 PM Naked City
9:45 PM Topkapi
TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008)
Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th.
After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality."
DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962.
WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994.
1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater)
1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart"
1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"
Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th
The Naked City - Jules Dassin's THE NAKED CITY on DVD
The cops in The Naked City are part of a collective workforce that not only streams into the city each day on the subways, but reinvented the cop genre before the cameras even rolled, presenting to an America yearning for postwar stability a committed civilian army of what William H. Whyte later was to term organization men, reassuring the citizenry that if all wasn't well, it could be made well, thanks to the dogged, untiring efforts of working men who went home tired every night, but did their jobs in a city that was not only functioning, but confident. The real NYPD willingly supplied the protracted cram course soaked up by Army Air Force Film Unit vet and writer Malvin Wald, whose original idea was augmented by producer and ex-newspaper columnist Mark Hellinger's connections, ranging from Walter Winchell to mayor William O'Dwyer, assuring Wald and the film maximum and unprecedented access.
Its fresh take on big city crime represented a confluence of styles the dynamic city portraits of Walter Ruttman's Berlin, Symphony of a Big City (1927) and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Camera (1929), the oft-cited Italian neo-realists, and the resourceful techniques devised by filmmakers in WW II armed services film units, liberated from studio methods. Paul Weatherwax won an Oscar® for the unflagging rhythms of his editing. William Daniels, reinventing himself after being known as Garbo's cameraman, won a black-and-white cinematography Oscar® for his arresting and often startlingly beautiful Manhattan images. Even Hellinger, who wrote and spoke the voiceover narration a la Orson Welles, democratically alternates between godlike omniscience and attempts to talk to the characters and get inside their heads. This new kind of police procedural represented a merger of the highest standard of Hollywood craft, done on the run and off the cuff, and the tabloid immediacy (and borrowed title) of the book of candid photos by Albert Felig, who called himself Weegee.
Fusing strands of fictionalized real-life crimes, it entwines jewel thefts and the murder of an ambitious young woman in her West 83d Street apartment. The crime isn't solved by a brilliant Sherlockian sleuth or by a tough lone gumshoe, but by a police team of lab technicians and cops doing lots of legwork. They're headed by a homicide inspector who never fires a shot or pursues anyone, but who interrogates and integrates the pieces into a big picture. Barry Fitzgerald claimed he was too old to persuasively play a cop, so Hellinger divided the cop in two with Fitzgerald as the brains and Don Taylor as his young protégé, who does the legwork and the shooting at the end. Before we're even aware that he's a cop, we see Taylor as just another wage slave, leaving his wife, kid, and modest Astoria semi-detached, joining the morning flow of men in suits and ties who daily coalesce into a mass of subway straphangers.
Fitzgerald's guru overcomes his own Irish stereotype, cemented by his Oscar®-winning priest opposite Bing Crosby in 1944 in Going My Way (1944). He plays down mannerisms and what could have been the fey, whimsical cuteness of a leprechaun persona to convince as the case-hardened old pro whose most intense outburst of passion is reserved for his working-class outrage upon hearing that a suspect spent $50 wining and dining a woman in a nightclub a weekly sum on which he once supported a family. He's a forerunner of Peter Falk's Columbo, acting mostly by listening, saving the blockbuster question until the end, then delivering it as if it was a parenthetical afterthought. And of Dennis Franz's Andy Sipowicz, who knows when it's time to take the gloves off during an interrogation. He's as shrewd and unflappable as his subordinate is antsy. But you do feel in Taylor's gawky straight arrow the unswerving desire to be a good cop.
Dassin calls upon his experience with the Group Theater and Yiddish theater and loads the cast with New York stage and radio veterans. Tom Pedi's sleepy-eyed investigating cop projects underplayed astuteness. Saying little, but making us feel his non-stop concentration, he sidesteps stereotyped Brooklynese. Howard Duff, radio's Sam Spade, is a keen-edged heel. Hellinger and Dassin had cast him in their 1947 prison drama, Brute Force, and knew he could project toughness. From the Yiddish theater Dassin recruited Molly Picon's street vendor and David Opatoshu's cop. Ted De Corsia's burly killer reflects a piece of advice a real cop offered, namely that an outlaw could hole up more undetectably on the Lower East Side than out of town. He seems connected to his world, even as he flees through a prophetically symbolic lot of tombstones for sale. There's even a whiff of potential anarchy in the teeming spillover of the melting pot Lower East Side, a contrast to the other, homogeneous Manhattan elsewhere.
The Naked City never piles on the social comment, yet makes sure it's there. It does all the evoking it needs to do and then some. Photographed with freshness, urgency and beauty, it's vibrant art, a crisp, crackling pop myth. It did seem to open under a dark cloud, though. Hellinger died before it was released. And ironically, the film's endorsement of the system and its message -- namely that American society and its authority figures in the pre-Watergate, pre-Serpico era were functional and just -- didn't keep Dassin and screenwriter Albert Maltz (brought in to sharpen and polish Wald's script) from being blacklisted during the Red Scare. But whether in its time or ours, one can't overstate the film's seminal importance. Its newness was paid the ultimate Hollywood compliment of mystification. Universal executives had seen nothing like it before. They wanted to bury it, unmoved by the fact that a rooftop interrogation scene was filmed atop the unfinished Park Avenue building that was to house the studio's New York offices. But lawyers for the Hellinger estate held firm to the contractual terms, and it was released. Although Dassin later said he wept when he saw how it had been cut, removing bits of humanizing portraiture, The Naked City was a hit. It has defined and shaped police procedurals ever since. As narrator Hellinger famously says, "There are eight million stories in The Naked City. This has been one of them." It still is.
As usual, the Criterion Collection extras, all of which contributed to this piece, are exemplary. Wald fascinatingly talks us through The Naked City in a featurette as long as the film itself. NYU film prof Dana Polan provides enriching social and historical context. Architect James Sanders speaks illuminatingly on the NYC locations. And in footage filmed during a 2004 tribute at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, Dassin bares his own Naked City anecdotes, revealingly and with generosity of spirit, displaying little bitterness over being railroaded out of Hollywood. It helped that his career flourished in Europe, with, among other films, Night and the City (1950), Rififi (1954) and Never on Sunday (1960). Fittingly, he has the last word, as grace and charm yield to moving recollections of his late wife, the actress and Greek cultural minister Melina Mercouri, and his ongoing efforts to complete her mission of retrieving from the British Museum the Parthenon marbles and repatriating them to Greece.
For more information about The Naked City, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Naked City, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jay Carr
The Naked City - Jules Dassin's THE NAKED CITY on DVD
There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.- Narrator
I don't know anything about medicine, doctor, but that's one prescription that never cured anything.- Muldoon
Thought you were off the liquor. Liquor is bad. Weakens your character. How can a man like me trust a liar like you? I can't.- Willie Garza
The working title of the film was Homicide. The film contains no opening credits; instead, the picture opens with producer Mark Hellinger's oral narration, in which he states the film's title, identifies the screenwriters, director of photography, director and stars, then explains that, unlike most Hollywood films, The Naked City was shot in New York City, using actual locations and citizens. The film ends with Hellinger uttering the famous lines "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." Within the written end credits, Hellinger expresses "his deep gratitude to the mayor and police commissioner of New York City. Without their cooperation, this film could not have been made." The Naked City was Hellinger's final film; he died from a heart attack on 21 December 1947.
According to Hollywood Reporter, The Naked City was also the title of a documentary short produced by Weegee, a noted photojournalist. Hellinger arranged to purchase the title for his feature film, and Weegee's short was released as Weegee's New York. Weegee, in turn, worked as the official still photographer on The Naked City. Universal press materials state that over a quarter million feet of film was shot in the making of The Naked City, and that concealed cameras were used in order to capture authentic action in the congested areas of New York. Universal press materials also point out that, of the twenty-four featured roles in The Naked City, only four were played by "Hollywood actors," with the other parts filled by New York radio and stage actors, including James Gregory and Walter Burke, who made their screen debuts in the film.
Hellinger, director Jules Dassin and cinematographer William Daniels had previously worked together on the 1947 Universal release Brute Force (see entry above). Daniels and editor Paul Weatherwax won Academy Awards for their work on The Naked City. Writer Malvin Wald was nominated for an Academy Award for his original story, but lost to Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler for The Search . The film made both Film Daily's and the London Sunday Graphic's "ten best" list for 1948. Modern film scholars consider The Naked City a ground-breaking film, as it marked the introduction of Italian neorealism aesthetics into American mainstream cinema. The Naked City was the basis for television series of the same name, which was aired on the ABC network from 1958 to 1963 and utilized the same signature closing line as the film.