The Naked City

Nail-biting extra in The Naked City (dir. Jules Dassin, 1948).

Boy finds body floating in the East River.

Don Taylor.

Filmed entirely on location in New York City, Jules Dassin's big, hearty procedural borrows as much from newsreels and state-sponsored documentaries as from Italian neorealism. Producer Mark Hellinger's insistent voiceover is corny, but also an integral part of the movie's poignant tone of detached conviviality. Dassin has a knack for this effect, a mixture of generous sympathy for his characters and near-ironic fascination with the minutiae of incidental inflections and gestures that reduce subjects to caricatures: a heel on a bus whistles at a newspaper photo of the murdered model, and the woman standing behind him adopts a blankly bemused smirk; a pair of wrestlers pause in mid-embrace to answer police questions, their muscles frozen with stress throughout. It's obvious who the good guys and bad guys are, and which ones we're supposed to root for, but there is nevertheless a sense that none of the "eight million stories in the naked city" outweigh any of the others. We learn, for example, that shopkeepers and neighborhood children are fond of the murderous hoodlum Willie "the Harmonica" Garzah (Ted de Corsia), who looks down at the off-camera form of Don Taylor after knocking him out and chuckles, his face drenched with sweat, "That was a rabbit punch, copper--and it's strictly illegal."

No comments: