The Naked City: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

A murder isn’t unusual in New York City, but this one has captivated the population. A beautiful young blonde named Jean Dexter was killed and the papers have been fixated on the case, so the public profile is high. Detective Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) take the lead on the case, but they’re far from alone, as the full scope of law enforcement is at their disposal. As usual, the prime suspect is the boyfriend, in this case the less than upstanding Frank Niles (Howard Duff), a two timer with little respect for the truth. Not only does he lie to the police at times, but he was cheating on Jean and giving stolen jewelry to his other girlfriend, Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart). Ruth had no idea she was being cheated on given stolen jewels, as he planned to marry Niles and settle down. The case takes a turn at this point, as the detectives use the stolen jewel angle to sniff out new leads and paths to follow. As they put the pieces together, the killer runs right into one of the detectives, but will justice be served before someone else winds up dead?

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This phrase has become a part of our culture and in the world of film noir, Jules Dassin’s The Naked City is considered a cornerstone of the genre. If you like realism in your noir, then you’ll love this movie, as it is about as realistic as possible, given the limitations of the time period. So if you need flash or sensationalism, look elsewhere, as The Naked City is about realism and a natural atmosphere. The characters look and behave like real people would, no over the top cops or miracle working forensics teams here, just old fashioned police work and dedication. But don’t confuse realistic with dull, as that simply isn’t the case here. The tension is well crafted and the movie has a good pace, just not the kind of easy answer scenarios we see on crime dramas these days. As in real life, solving the crime depends on not just one mastermind detective, but a team of workers in various fields, so we watch a lot of folks in action. To me, this is one of the best crime films out there, not flashy, but solid and grounded. Criterion has created another fantastic package, giving The Naked City the red carpet treatment and of course, that means this release is highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

The Naked City is presented in full frame, as intended. This release boasts a new restored transfer and it shows, as the visuals don’t look as worn as you might expect. The print looks quite clean, though grain is present and high at times. The grain never lessens the visuals much however, so no serious concerns there. The black & white image looks great and shows more sharpness than expected, which is always good news. So the visuals have solid detail depth, while contrast is stark and stays accurate throughout, which is crucial here. This is not on par with Criterion’s best restorations, but the movie looks very good and in the end, better than any other available releases.

Audio: How does it sound?

This movie has little need for extensive audio, so the included mono is more than adequate. I found no real problems with clarity or harshness, which is good for a film of this nature and age, so I was pleased from the start. The music and sound effects are clean and come off well, even if not as rich as a full surround track would be. I heard no issues with the vocals either, which sound crisp and are always at a proper volume, no trouble arises there. This disc also includes English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

If you’re taken with the film’s locations, you’ll love the featurette found here, as author James Sanders guides through a tour of the prominent locales. I do think this is a little drawn out in places, but is still well done and a great way to learn more about the New York locations. Malvin Wald, screenwriter of The Naked City, sat down for an audio commentary track, but I wasn’t too enamored with the session. He spends too much time narrating, when we know what is happening on screen, with only a minimal amount of insight thrown in at times. This disc also includes an interview with an NYU film professor, a 2004 appearance by Dassin, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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