The Naked City (Jules Dassin / U.S., 1948):

Simenon and Weegee are the guiding principles, the city symphony is conducted al fresco. The blonde model dead in the bathtub ("She needed a good spanking") occasions the move from Manhattan skyline to police station, "a heavy case" in the middle of summer and a foretaste of Dragnet. Homicide lieutenant (Barry Fitzgerald) and rookie detective (Don Taylor) lead the investigation, a kaleidoscopic tour: Fashion shops and mortuaries, skyscrapers and subways, piers and boxing gyms, Long Island towers and Lower East End fleapits. The abruptness of crime versus the law's dogged composure, with Mark Hellinger as the voice from above: "Ever try to catch a murderer? It has its depressing moments." A robbery ring is the target of the procedural, more essential to Jules Dassin is the discovery of quotidian textures, the way the actors' Gangbusters exclamations echo off of real walls and ceilings. (Deep focus diagonals are prevalent, so are windows and frames that reveal passersby, gawkers, and children playing on the sidewalk, along with bit players like Paul Ford, Mona Freeman, James Gregory, and Arthur O'Connell.) And yet documentary and surrealism are two sides of the same coin, as Feuillade discovered, thus "the acrobat who played the harmonica" bending the frugality of the vérité locations, Ted de Corsia exercising in wrestling trunks for the benefit of the young Kubrick. The chase up Williamsburg Bridge slows down briefly for a strange glimpse of tennis courts by the East River (tiny white dots move before the eyes of the sweaty fugitive), then it's all yesterday's news scooped off the gutter. "There are eight million stories..." It opens the ground for Kurosawa (Stray Dog) and Friedkin (The French Connection), and then turns into opera for Dassin himself (Night and the City). Cinematography by William Daniels. With Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Frank Conroy, Anne Sargent, and House Jameson. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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