Blu-ray: Must Own
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Release Date: September 8th, 2020
Movie Release Year: 1948
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

The Naked City - Criterion Collection

Review Date October 1st, 2020 by
Overview -

Real. Raw. Riveting. That's The Naked City. Director Jules Dassin's stunning, ambitious, often gritty semi-documentary drama about a New York City murder investigation helped revolutionize American moviemaking with its all-location shooting and realistic, slice-of-life slant. A brand new, dazzling 4K restoration exposes more of The Naked City than ever before, while excellent audio and a few choice supplements heighten the appeal of this important Criterion release. Must Own.

OVERALL
Must Own
  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: Blu-ray Disc
    NEW 4K RESTORATION by TLE Films FIlm Restoration & Preservation Services, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p AVC/MPEG-4
    Black & White
    Length:96
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):1.37:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English: PCM Mono
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH
    Special Features:
    • Audio commentary from 1996 featuring screenwriter Malvin Wald
    • Interview from 2006 with film scholar Dana Polan
    • Interview from 2006 with author James Sanders (Celluloid Skyline) on the film's New York locations
    • Footage of director Jules Dassin from a 2004 appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
    • Stills gallery
    • PLUS: An essay by author and critic Luc Sante and production notes from producer Mark Hellinger to Dassin
    Movie Studio: Criterion Collection
    Release Date: September 8th, 2020

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

5 Stars out of 5

"This is the city as it is."

Hollywood is known for hyperbole, but The Naked City tells the naked truth. One of the first motion pictures shot entirely on location in a major metropolis, director Jules Dassin's film celebrates New York's vital populace while condemning the crime and corruption woven into the city's complex fabric. Part semi-documentary, part police procedural, and part film noir, this riveting chronicle of an NYPD murder investigation puts us on the street with cops, thugs, average Joes and Janes, and the sophisticated elite. The ensemble cast portrays an array of colorful characters, but the Big Apple is the movie's undisputed star, and Dassin showcases it with an intoxicating mixture of glamor and grit.

Following World War II, Americans craved more realistic films that accurately depicted their problems and addressed the challenges they faced. Producer Mark Hellinger and writer Marvin Wald tapped into that desire by creating a movie that eschewed soundstage artifice in favor of real-world authenticity. To film an entire movie on location in a city as dense and complex as New York was a novel - and daunting - idea, but Universal went all in, and once Dassin and cinematographer William Daniels grabbed the reins, they brought this ambitious project to breathtaking fruition.

The Naked City opens, quite fittingly, with a series of striking aerial shots of the New York skyline. There are no title cards or credits (those come at the end of the film), just narration from Hellinger that sets the scene and acknowledges the contributions of the cast, crew, and the Big Apple itself. (The narration continues intermittently throughout the movie and becomes a highly effective narrative tool.) Soon the camera descends to the streets and provides random snapshots of city life before abruptly cutting to a dark apartment where two hitmen are bumping off a beautiful blonde. That blonde turns out to be Jean Dexter, a former dress model in a chic boutique whose hunger for the high life leads her into a jewelry theft racket that eventually gets her killed. Veteran homicide detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) gets the case and works with rookie officer Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) and an army of NYPD crime specialists to solve the whodunit.

The screenplay by Wald and Albert Maltz (one of the famed Hollywood Ten, a group of writers who would be fined, jailed, and later blacklisted for refusing to comply with the demands of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee [HUAC]) takes us through the process step by step, from crime scene and crime lab work to strategy sessions, witness interviews, and suspect pursuits. Sometimes police procedurals can be dry and dull, but through the eyes of Dassin, who channels the neorealism of Italian directors Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, and the lens of Daniels, who would win an Oscar for his exceptional photography, we see a city that teems with life.

Every location in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn provides priceless atmosphere and a true you-are-there feeling that adds vitality and urgency to the drama while heightening its impact. We can almost breathe the city's acrid fumes and feel its grime as we watch the police pound the pavement in search of clues and leads. Strikingly, the depicted landmarks aren't painted backdrops, rear projection shots, or flimsy reproductions, but rather the actual pillars of an iconic metropolis, just like the less heralded mom-and-pop businesses, office buildings, precincts, and tenements where much of the tale transpires.

The Naked City is also notable because it pioneered what would become a Hollywood action movie staple - the chase scene. Once you see the first pursuit that starts on the streets and ends at an elevated train station, you won't be able to shake the notion that it inspired the famous subway scene in The French Connection. That's just a warm-up, though, for the climactic chase that culminates not just on the Williamsburg Bridge, but up on top of it. Logistical and structural challenges must have made this sequence a nightmare to shoot, but the effort yields rich rewards. Distinguished by ingenuity, packed with arresting camera angles, and brimming with excitement, the chase not only caps off a riveting story, it's also a flat-out brilliant display of filmmaking that would influence directors for generations to come.

Dassin and Daniels make a dynamic duo, but the natural performances by a cast of largely unknown actors further enhance the realistic presentation. Fitzgerald, who's best known for his Oscar-winning portrayal of a crusty Irish priest in Going My Way, might seem like an odd choice to play a tough NYPD detective in a gritty film noir (Fitzgerald himself thought so, too), but the diminutive 60-year-old actor becomes a towering presence over the movie's course. His quiet confidence and no-nonsense attitude reflect the film's just-the-facts-ma'am tone, but moments of impish charm and empathetic warmth add an essential human element to his character.

Classic movie fans certainly remember Taylor as the affable fiancé of Elizabeth Taylor (no relation) in the original Father of the Bride, but the lanky actor makes a much stronger impression here as an earnest, enthusiastic, yet green detective who recklessly puts himself in harm's way to catch a killer. Howard Duff made his film debut the previous year in Dassin's Brute Force, and his sterling work earned him a bigger role in The Naked City. As a shady, wannabe big shot who gets in over his head, Duff projects a potent magnetism and makes the most of his juicy part.

Both Duff and Dassin also would face heat from HUAC. Shortly after The Naked City, Dassin would flee the U.S. and work primarily in Europe for the rest of his career, while Duff emerged battered but largely unscathed because of his marriage to actress-director Ida Lupino. One can only wonder how far each man - and Maltz, too - might have gone in Hollywood had they not been targeted and persecuted by such a vicious body.

The Naked City didn't single-handedly change the face of American moviemaking, but it opened Hollywood's eyes to the visceral power and dazzling impact of location shooting and realism. It also would spawn a highly successful TV series that would use the picture's signature last line - "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." - as its catchphrase. Today, the film still packs a punch, thanks largely to Dassin's craftsmanship, the taut script, and the production's ambitious nature. Many films try, but The Naked City succeeds in laying New York bare, and in so doing, exhilarates everyone who appreciates the art of film.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray

The Naked City arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard Criterion case. A 14-page booklet featuring an essay by author Luc Sante, an archival memo from producer Mark Hellinger to director Jules Dassin regarding the movie's climactic chase scene, a cast and crew listing, and restoration notes is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is LPCM mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray Disc
    NEW 4K RESTORATION by TLE Films FIlm Restoration & Preservation Services, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p AVC/MPEG-4
    Black & White
    Length:96
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.37:1
    Audio Formats:
    English: PCM Mono
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    Special Features:

    • Audio commentary from 1996 featuring screenwriter Malvin Wald
    • Interview from 2006 with film scholar Dana Polan
    • Interview from 2006 with author James Sanders (Celluloid Skyline) on the film's New York locations
    • Footage of director Jules Dassin from a 2004 appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
    • Stills gallery
    • PLUS: An essay by author and critic Luc Sante and production notes from producer Mark Hellinger to Dassin
    Movie Studio: Criterion Collection
    Release Date: September 8th, 2020

Video Review

5 Stars out of 5

A painstaking 4K restoration of The Naked City yields a magnificent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that faithfully honors and celebrates the Oscar-winning cinematography of the great William Daniels. According to the liner notes and an on-screen restoration explanation that precedes the film, distributor changes over the years altered the picture and sound elements of The Naked City, while poor handling and general decay accelerated the movie's "massive deterioration." In 2016, the current rights owner ordered a "complete and extensive restoration for preservation," and after a search to find the film's original nitrate negative proved fruitless, "a total of 13 elements were selected and used, among them a nitrate fine grain and a safety duplicate negative recently discovered at the British Film Institute." The frame-by-frame 4K restoration took two years to complete, and the results exceed even the wildest expectations.

From the opening aerial shots of the New York skyline right down to the smallest details, this transfer delivers a crisp yet lush picture that beautifully reflects the glamor, grit, and grime of the Big Apple locations. Excellent clarity, contrast, and grayscale bring all the details to brilliant life, and the natural grain structure remains intact, preserving the film-like look and enhancing the movie's realistic feel. Rich, inky blacks and bright whites anchor the image, while superior shadow delineation supplies marvelous contours.

Background elements like wallpaper patterns, rug textures, and bits of decor are wonderfully sharp, and close-ups nicely show off fine facial features, glistening sweat, blemishes, and stubble. Only a few errant nicks and marks sully the pristine print, which exudes marvelous vibrancy and depth. The Naked City used to look ragged and worn, but this restoration completely revitalizes this classic film and allows us to fully appreciate the vision and craftsmanship that make it such a stunning achievement.

Audio Review

4.5 Stars out of 5

According to the liner notes, "the soundtrack was remastered primarily from the 35 mm nitrate fine-grain variable-density soundtrack, as well as the 35 mm original sound negative." The resulting LPCM mono track really thrusts us into the hustle and bustle of the New York City streets, but keeps extraneous cacophony at bay and remains crisp and clear throughout. So many location films of the period feature rough, hollow-sounding audio, but The Naked City track is smooth and distinct. The honking horns, blaring sirens, car engines, elevated trains, shuffling feet, and constant buzz of voices underscore the action, but dialogue is always well prioritized and easy to comprehend. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of the robust music score - a joint effort between Frank Skinner and Miklós Rózsa - without a hint of distortion, silences are clean, and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude. Though the video is the undisputed star of this release, the audio comes very close to equaling it.

Special Features

3 Stars out of 5

Criterion supplies a stellar supplemental package that puts The Naked City in context and enhances appreciation of this groundbreaking classic. Though the restoration credits at the end of the film denote the original theatrical trailer was also restored, it is not included on this disc.

  • Audio Commentary - Back in 1996, 78-year-old Naked City screenwriter Marvin Wald sat down for this essential commentary, which provides an inside look at the making of the film and insightful analysis about its revolutionary style and authentic story. Wald talks about the drama's real-life roots, how he convinced producer Mark Hellinger to become inovolved with the project, the initial reticence of actor Barry Fitzgerald to play a police detective, and how he borrowed elements from the western genre to bring excitement to his script. He also relates the input and advice he received from the police prior to writing the screenplay, discusses how the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings at the time affected Hollywood's attitudes, and links The Naked City to such contemporary films and TV shows as Pulp FictionNYPD Blue, and Law & Order. He even draws a few parallels to the O.J. Simpson murder investigation and trial. The Naked City was Wald's baby from the beginning, and it's fascinating to hear his reflections on this exceptional film.
  • Interview with Dana Polan (HD, 28 minutes) - Film scholar Dana Polan classifies The Naked City as both an "unsettling" film noir and "reassuring" police procedural in this 2006 discussion that looks at how the film fits into America's post-World War II climate. Polan talks about the permanence of both the police and criminality in cities, and how that continuum made The Naked City such a perfect TV series when it premiered a decade after the film was released. He also addresses New York's multi-cultural environment and hierarchical structure, the film's voyeuristic elements and striking voiceover narration, and how The Naked City differs from Dassin's previous film, Brute Force. This is a worthwhile featurette, and the old, beat-up clips sprinkled throughout make us appreciate this stunning restoration of The Naked City all the more.
  • Interview with James Sanders (HD, 26 minutes)  - "Motion pictures were made for New York and New York was made for motion pictures," says architect and author James Sanders in this 2006 piece that examines the contribution of the Big Apple to both The Naked City and movies in general. Sanders charts the history of film production in New York, looks at Hollywood's interpretation of the city, and notes how the post-World War II mentality and influences of neorealist directors Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica made The Naked City a viable production. He also identifies many locations used in the film and explores the idea of the city as a living organism in this absorbing featurette.
  • Jules Dassin at the LACFA (HD, 41 minutes) - The late, great director talks about his films, career, the Hollywood blacklist, film preservation, and his late wife Melina Mercouri in this lively, engaging 2004 interview following a screening of his masterwork Rififi at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The 94-year-old Dassin shares wonderful anecdotes about Hitchcock, his early years at MGM, and working with producer Mark Hellinger and actress Melina Mercouri. He also rues some cuts that were made to The Naked City without his knowledge before the film's release, relates a story about 20th Century-Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck that belies his tough, ruthless image, and talks about fostering Mercouri's humanitarian efforts since her death. It's always a treat to hear from a director first-hand, and Dassin's vivid, colorful recollections are a treasure.
  • Stills Gallery (HD, 6 minutes) - Fifty-five black-and-white images and two color poster reproductions comprise this gallery, which mixes behind-the-scenes shots with scene stills and publicity portraits.

Final Thoughts

A landmark film for its all-location shooting and semi-documentary style, The Naked City thrusts viewers into the thick of a New York City murder investigation while exploring all the diverse slice-of-life elements that fuel the Big Apple. Director Jules Dassin's ambitious, absorbing, and impeccably executed production ushered in a new era of moviemaking, and it remains just as impressive today as it surely seemed more than seven decades ago. A meticulous, often dazzling 4K restoration makes The Naked City feel more immediate than ever before and fosters renewed appreciation for William Daniels' Oscar-winning cinematography. Excellent audio and a nice supplemental package also distinguish this terrific Criterion release that demands a spot on every cinephile's shelf. Must Own.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray Disc
    NEW 4K RESTORATION by TLE Films FIlm Restoration & Preservation Services, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p AVC/MPEG-4
    Black & White
    Length:96
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.37:1
    Audio Formats:
    English: PCM Mono
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    Special Features:

    • Audio commentary from 1996 featuring screenwriter Malvin Wald
    • Interview from 2006 with film scholar Dana Polan
    • Interview from 2006 with author James Sanders (Celluloid Skyline) on the film's New York locations
    • Footage of director Jules Dassin from a 2004 appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
    • Stills gallery
    • PLUS: An essay by author and critic Luc Sante and production notes from producer Mark Hellinger to Dassin
    Movie Studio: Criterion Collection
    Release Date: September 8th, 2020