Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Target #63: The Naked City (1948, Jules Dassin)

Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Malvin Wald (story & screenplay), Albert Maltz (screenplay)
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy, Ted de Corsia, House Jameson

Italian neorealism, which reached its zenith with Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), was distinguished from other cinematic styles through its use of non-professional actors, loosely-plotted and realistic story lines, and unstylised on-location photography. Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948) is a fair Hollywood attempt at blending the styles of neorealism and film noir, both of which were at the time only beginning to receive due recognition. At first glance, the two movements appear to sit at opposite ends of the stylistic and ideological spectrum: film noir typically concerns the fate of ordinary men trapped in exceptional circumstances, whereas Italian neorealism presents its characters' struggles as decidedly unremarkable, representative of the societal norm. Where these two particular films converge is in emphasising the invisibility of drama in real-life. De Sica's bicycle-seeking protagonists, dejected and beaten, disappear amid the crowds of workers. In his desperate flight from the authorities, Dassin's Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia) carves a disruptive path through the crowds of New Yorkers, but the city schedule is interrupted only briefly.

Underpinning The Naked City is producer Mark Hellinger's narration, which serves as both a prop and a vice. Absolutely essential is the final sign-off, which remarks "there are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." Coming only moments after a murderer falls to his death from the Williamsburg Bridge, this narration assures us, as critic Luc Sante writes in his Criterion Collection essay, "that what we briefly experienced as a cosmic struggle up above the earth was really just another statistic." In a city of eight million people, such high-drama attains only passing significance: workers file past the apartment building where a young model was brutally murdered; children play jump-rope outside the office window of a detective embroiled in a homicide case; a street-sweeper cleans up yesterday's discarded newspaper, its headline "DEXTER MURDER SOLVED!" having since given way to more pertinent news. However, Hellinger's narration, which chimes in at regular intervals, can also be intrusive, and I disliked the cheerful, cloying manner in which it interacted with the characters, as in a contemporary newsreel.

Despite revolving around a police procedural that has many of the classic dramatic ingredients – most memorably a suave jewel thief and pathological liar (Howard Duff) – it is only when detectives Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Halloran (Don Taylor) take to the streets that The Naked City really springs to life. Dassin filmed most of his exteriors out in the gritty urban walkways, often without the knowledge of bystanders, and the resultant atmosphere is fundamental to his storytelling style. New York simply seems so real, bustling with the minor details of activity – children playing in the streets, salesmen pushing their carts – that are impossible to duplicate on a studio backlot. However, rather than serving merely as a documentary portraiture of city life, as in Vertov's The Man with a Movie Camera (1929), the film's authentic environment instead functions to solidify the immediacy of the underlying drama. While Dassin's ability to juggle these disparate elements at times appears strained, he would perfect his method for what is, for my money, the director's masterpiece: Night and the City (1950).
7.5/10

Currently my #6 film of 1948:
1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston)
2) Ladri di biciclette {The Bicycle Thief} (Vittorio De Sica)
3) Rope (Alfred Hitchcock)
4) Oliver Twist (David Lean)
5) The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
6) The Naked City (Jules Dassin) *
7) Macbeth (Orson Welles)
8) Key Largo (John Huston) *
9) Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls)
10) Secret Beyond the Door… (Fritz Lang) *

1 comment:

Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Andrew,
Not again!...I think that you, are reading my "mind"...I'am just kidding!...but of course!

Because I just received a copy of Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948),(From Sam Juliano,) Which I plan to watch for the first time sometime this week. And the film
The Naked City, will be featured in an upcoming contest on my blog
at the end of this month...Wow!

Andrew said,"At first glance, the two movements appear to sit at opposite ends of the stylistic and ideological spectrum: film noir typically concerns the fate of ordinary men trapped in exceptional circumstances, whereas Italian neorealism presents its characters' struggles as decidedly unremarkable, representative of the societal norm. Where these two particular films converge is in emphasising the invisibility of drama in real-life..."

By the way, I like the way that you compared and contrasted both films.(The Naked City and The Bicycle Thieves )and then reached the conclusion that both films converge in emphasizing the invisibility of drama in real-life.

"Dassin filmed most of his exteriors out in the gritty urban walkways, often without the knowledge of bystanders, and the resultant atmosphere is fundamental to his storytelling style..."

I most definitely, agree with what you say, here...because I read an article were Mr.Dassin, pointed this out in an interview...shortly,
before his death.

Thanks, Andrew, for sharing!
a concise, and to the point review.
DeeDee ;-D