Martha Swenson (Virginia Mullen) finds her employer Jean Dexter dead in the bathtub. The police are called. Police Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) gets the call. Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) is assisting. The coroner says she was murdered. She was rendered unconscious with chloroform and drowned in her tub. By the bruises on her neck he can tell there were two men involved. Manner of death, murder.
Later that night the two killers are drinking on the dock. One decides that the other is a liability. When the liability passes out, the other tosses him in the river to drown.
According to Martha the housekeeper, Jean was a model. She had a lot of jewelry that is now gone. She had been seeing a man named Henderson. She also mentions an ex-boyfriend, Frank Niles (Howard Duff). When they question Jean’s employer they find Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart), Jean’s friend. They bring Niles in for some routine questioning. He’s known Jean for about a year. They have had business dealings and that’s it. He doesn’t know her friend Ruth. When Ruth shows up she says that Niles is her fiancé and he doesn’t know Jean. Frank Niles has lied about everything. Now Niles is suspect number one.
The investigation turns up a pawn shop where Niles pawned a gold cigarette case. He also bought a one way ticket to Mexico. It seems that a lot of the jewelry Jean had was stolen. Niles says Jean gave him the cigarette case, and his fancy gold lighter, and Ruth’s engagement ring. Oops. One of the other stolen items was a ring that Jean was wearing when she was killed. Turns out the ring she was wearing was stolen too, from Mrs. Hylton (Enid Markey). Turns out the ring actually belongs to her daughter from another marriage. Turns out her daughter is Ruth Morrison. Oops.
When the police go to have another chat with Niles they interrupt someone who is trying to kill him. It seems Niles is more than just a liar. He is up to his neck in stolen goods, a couple murders and obstruction of justice. The only way he can lessen the charges is if he comes clean and names everyone involved.
“The Naked City” was released in 1948 and was directed by Jules Dassin. It is a police procedural and a film noir. It is narrated in a casual documentary style by producer Mark Hellinger. The film garnered two Oscars. One for cinematography to William H. Daniels and another for film editing to Paul Weatherwax. “The Naked City” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Shot on location in New York City, many of the films footage was done incognito. Cameras were hidden inside fake newsstands and from trucks and vans. To divert the attention of passersby from the action of the actors, distractions were set up in the form of jugglers and other attention getting disturbances. The film used a hundred exterior locations.
The film itself was inspired by a book called “Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places” created by newspaper photographer Arthur Fellig, AKA Weegee, published in 1945. The book was a collection of candid photos that showed the dark side of New York. Mark Hellinger was a former newspaper man and saw something in the gritty and seamy black and white photos. It inspired him to use the city itself as the main character of the film.
The plot to the film is just as interesting as the city. It’s a little intricate but done well. The acting is good, especially Barry Fitzgerald. He adds a touch of humanity to his performance that makes him as endearing as he is intelligent. He’s seen it all but he’s not jaded. I personally was not crazy about the narration during the film but it didn’t totally spoil it for me and most people liked it so I will acquiesce.
A half hour television series, based on the film, with John McIntire and James Franciscus aired in 1958 and 1959. In 1960 and hour long series went from 1960 to 1963 with a whole new cast. Both the half hour show and the resurrected hour length show were named “The Naked City”.