The Naked City (Directors Suite) (1948)

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Released 22-Sep-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Dr Geoff Mayer
Trailer-Brute Force, Double Indemnity, Tarnished Angels, Whirlpool
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1948
Running Time 92:15 (Case: 96)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (58:20) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jules Dassin
Studio
Distributor
Universal-Internatnl
Madman Entertainment
Starring Barry Fitzgerald
Howard Duff
Dorothy Hart
Don Taylor
Frank Conroy
Ted de Corsia
House Jameson
Anne Sargent
Adelaide Klein
Grover Burgess
Tom Pedi
Enid Markey
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Miklós Rózsa
Frank Skinner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The naked city is New York. Inspired by a book of photos of the city and its crimes by the celebrated photographer Weegee, the movie shows a team of policemen tracking down the killer of a young model, by way of several shady characters whose failings are unmasked during the course of the picture. The mundane activities of police work form part of the story.

    The Naked City is generally regarded as something of a watershed and indeed it is a transitional work that bridges the gap between the crime films of the 1930s and the more hardboiled police films of the 1950s. But it is really neither one nor the other. The idea of showing the police at work in a more realistic fashion originated in the literature of the immediate post-war period. The first work identified as a "police procedural" was published in 1945 though the term itself was not invented until the mid-1950s. One can see the seed for this in the prevalence of documentaries in the war years. Even then I think the raw realism of both the depiction of war and the struggles on the home front made the heightened fantasies of the pre-war years seem quaint and dated. Whatever the reason, the public appetite for more realistic fare prompted a trickle of films that eventually changed the style of Hollywood filmmaking. The present film owes a lot to Henry Hathaway's 1945 spy drama The House on 92nd Street, a film that also used some New York location shooting and a semi-documentary style.

    The groundbreaking aspect of The Naked City though is the extent of the location filming in New York. The film opens not with on-screen credits (they are instead spoken by the narrator) but with aerial shots of the city. Slowly we are drawn into the lives of ordinary people and suddenly a murder is committed. The film proceeds with a combination of scenes shot in the studio and many shot on the streets of the city, as citizens go about their daily lives, the actors seemingly unnoticed. Though of course this was due to effective crowd control.

    What isn't groundbreaking about the film and what makes the first hour quite variable in quality is the way that the main police characters and suspects are depicted. Police lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) is a whimsical Irishman, his young detective offsider Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) is something of a bland family man with some typically Hollywood family issues to deal with, the prime suspect Frank Niles (Howard Duff) is a shady character with obvious secrets and so on. There is rather too much light humour early in the movie which makes the serious subject matter seem trivialised. At some times the tone resembles that of those 1950s TV family comedy-dramas.

    Then at about the one hour mark the film really starts to take off towards a thrilling conclusion as the police zero in on the killer. This section of the film is shot mainly outdoors or in shabby apartments and is the section with the most exposure of Ted de Corsia, one of the great heavies of the cinema who gives a splendidly slimy performance as the harmonica-playing wrestler. The other actors are variable. Fitzgerald is very good while Taylor gives one of his better performances in an acting career which never really took off. Howard Duff spends a lot of the time looking like he has a bad case of indigestion, he really isn't that impressive in a role that needed more acting tricks to make it work. On the other hand some of the supporting players tend to detract from the documentary style by some theatrical acting. If you are into actor spotting there are a lot of young performers in small roles who would become much better known. I won't mention any by name, but if you listen to the commentary they are all pointed out.

    The narration is by producer Mark Hellinger who did not live to see his film released. The narration is a little twee at times but he does get to deliver the most famous quote from the movie, which in fact are the very last words spoken in the film. The same words ended each episode of the late 1950s TV series Naked City.

    The real star though is the city of New York, splendidly photographed by William Daniels who won an Oscar for his efforts. Jules Dassin's direction ranges from inspired to nondescript. There are some well-staged scenes and some stunning images, such as the scene with the parents of the dead girl on the wharf at sunset. The second murder is also quite well-done, undoubtedly pushing the production code restrictions to the limit. A few scenes are a little flat, possibly evidence of post-production tampering by the studio. Much of the film doesn't live up to its reputation but it really hums towards the end and for that reason is well worth seeing. And this release from Madman Entertainment in their Directors Suite series is quite a good one.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.30:1. The original would have been 1.37:1. It is presented with thin black bars at the top and bottom. This is a good though not conclusive indication that the source for this transfer was the high-definition transfer used for the Region 1 Criterion release. It is not a standard conversion.

    Apart from a few fuzzy shots the transfer is clear, sharp and detailed. Some clean-up has obviously been done although there are still white flecks, occasional tramline scratches and other signs of damage. The black and white source material is well-transferred, with good shadow detail and very few film to video artefacts. The only notable issues I saw were with low level noise in some of the darker scenes.

    No subtitles are provided. The film comes on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer break positioned at 58:20. I did not notice the layer break when watching the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The feature comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack.

    The audio is a little disappointing, being often thin and distorted. A couple of sentences were muffled and difficult to understand. The sound needs to be turned up a few notches above the usual reference level. Some sync issues come from post-production dubbing.

    Unusually for me I noticed the increase in pitch caused by PAL speed-up. It was a little disconcerting to hear the voices sound higher than they usually would. I'm not sure whether this was a result of the reduced sound quality or whether I have been watching too many NTSC transfers lately.

    The music score is credited to Miklós Rózsa and Frank Skinner. To be honest I can't say I noticed it that much. It is either used sparingly or blends in so well that it does not draw attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio

    The main menu is static but has some of the music from the film.

Audio Commentary-Dr Geoff Mayer, La Trobe University

    A good commentary by the Australian academic and co-author of The Encyclopaedia of Film Noir. He covers a lot of background to the production of the film as well as its context in the history of Hollywood film. He also points out a lot of the bit part actors in case you are wondering who they are. On the downside he spends perhaps too much time talking about the actors. It is worth a listen though.

Madman Trailers (10:19)

    A selection of three noirish trailers and one other, preceded by the usual loud "don't burn a copy of this film or Kenny will die" anti-piracy diatribe. The trailers are for Brute Force, Double Indemnity, Tarnished Angels and Whirlpool.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This Region 4 release appears to be much the same transfer as the Region 1 Criterion release despite the variation in aspect ratio. The differences between the editions are several and the Region 4 misses out on:

    An earlier Region 1 release by Image Entertainment is best forgotten.

    Based on the copious extras the Region 1 is a clear winner. But the Region 4 is good enough if you are not into extras.

Summary

    The movie is very good despite the mixture of hardboiled detection, methodical police work and saccharine Hollywood tropes.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is below expectations.

    A good commentary is the only substantial extra.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, November 13, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW60 SXRD projector with 95" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt into BD player. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationReceiver: Sony STRDA5400ES; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference, Elektra Theatron
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Lack of extras - NewcastleBoy (read my bio)