Sunday, 30 November 2014

Blu-Ray Review: The Naked City

Jules Dassin's 1948 film became a landmark production for a number of reasons. Written by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald, the film was one of the first to shoot on location in New York, capturing a city at work and play: a city that never entirely sleeps.
Miss Jean Dexter, 26 years of age, was murdered between 1.00-2.00am, prompting a police investigation and banner headlines labelling this crime 'The Bathtub Murder'. Genial old school cop Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) takes his younger colleague Halloran (Don Taylor) in tow as they interview suspects, sift through clues and study forensic reports in an effort to nail the killer.
The evidence points to more than one assailant in Dexter's perplexing case and before long, a list of suspects has been assembled.
Previously, whodunnit cases were usually the province of lone private eyes who got their man (or woman) with the police very much on the outside looking in. 'The Naked City', however, takes us through a police investigation, highlighting practically every aspect of a murder case.

From scene of crime to morgue, to researching suspects and possible motives, right through to the weary legwork involved, down streets that stretch for miles, populated by people who all have their own stories. Of course, the usual nutters surface: the ones who claim responsibility whenever a major crime is committed, but they are quickly and humorously dismissed by men who already have their own list of likely folks, including inveterate liar Niles (Howard Duff) who reinvents himself every time he's on screen.
It's a complex plot and an absolute joy to follow and observe, with solid characterisation, an impressive documentary feel and a thrilling climax to boot!
'The Naked City' has inspired countless films and television series, and fully deserves this HD release which will doubtless gain it many new admirers.

Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation has strong detail, with a few scratches that add to the documentary feel. Overall, it's a fine incarnation of this film.The extras begin with a Malvin Wald commentary track. Malvin calls the film a revelation for its time, and notes it was shot in 107 different places. He talks about Howard Duff, who had earlier played Sam Spade in a radio show, and reveals how the film was saved from being literally destroyed by studio execs. We also hear about the hidden cameras used to film selected scenes that added a high degree of authenticity to proceedings. It's a fascinating talk, leading us to 'New York And The Naked City', which was recorded in August 2014 and runs for 39 minutes. Here, Amy Taubin talks about the New York underground movie scene, discussing the likes of Shirley Clarke and Kenneth Anger, and takes a look at the early New York film movement. Film schools are also discussed, and the piece offers a rounded view of film in The Big Apple.

'Jules Dassin At LACMA' runs for 52 minutes, catching the director's appearance at the LA County Museum Of Art in April 2004. There is some sound distortion from the original recording, but this shouldn't impair your enjoyment and appreciation. Dassin was a very funny guy, and repeatedly has the audience in stitches as he holds forth on his career. Work on 'The Naked City' and 'Rififi' is covered, and he talks about producer Mark Hellinger (who also provided narration for the film) and laments his passing. Listen out for a great Jack Lemmon story, too!

'The Hollywood Ten' runs for just shy of 15 minutes, being a 1950 documentary showing why ten producers, writers and directors appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and refused to answer questions relating to supposed communist activities. The men were given prison sentences, and Albert Maltz was one of them. It's a valuable addition to this disc, covering those dark days of 'blacklist'.
The disc is rounded off with a gallery of production stills by the infamous Weegee and a theatrical trailer.
As usual, Arrow has thoughtfully included an informative booklet, with new writing on the film by Sergio Angelini, Barry Salt and Alastair Phillips. It's a satisfying way to end this presentation of a very important film.

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