THE NAKED CITY (1948)

(Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD) THE NAKED CITY tries to be a lot of things: a detective story, a portrait of New York City and its citizens, plus an attempt at bringing a neorealism aesthetic to the silver screen. Despite its reach, it succeeds wildly with all of its aspirations.

Directed by Jules Dassin (who would make the underrated noir NIGHT AND THE CITY before being blacklisted), it’s just as much as producer/narrator Mike Hellinger’s film. Prior to being involved with film, Hellinger was a New York journalist and short story author, and you can see his background peppered through the entirety of THE NAKED CITY. (In fact, Hellinger was still giving notes about the film’s post-production on his death bed.)

THE NAKED CITY revels in the fact that they shot on location in New York City, and they even brought on infamous crime photography Weegee — who had a well-known photo book of NYC named NAKED CITY — to consult during production. (Despite Weegee’s involvement, it doesn’t revel in matter-of-fact violence the way Weegee’s photos were known for.)

Lastly, in a world before DRAGNET, THE NAKED CITY made the effort to detail the police procedural process, mostly via character actor Barry Fitzgerald as the head homicide detective. The end result intentionally veers away from overt sensationalism, often feeling more like a drama than a detective story — at least when the narration isn’t being too cheeky — but it is all the better for it.