Jules Dassin, USA, 1948
“There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
A must-see for any film student, I’d read about this film in a book I had on New York City and the cinema. If you love NYC and you love film (and is there any place that has appeared on celluloid more?), this book is for you (and check out the website in the link, it’s great!).
The city is not just a backdrop but a character, integral to the people and what happens. More than just a location, the city is part of the plot. And it’s a fairly straightforward plot – a whodunnit murder, with the police chasing leads, investigating suspects. We are in postwar-era America where men wear hats, telephone operators wear visors, fathers are responsible for disciplining their children, and the 1950s suburban dream is just beginning: there is very much a contrast drawn between the old chaotic city and the family-friendly, modern, commutable suburbs.
Most notable is the style of the film. It’s narrated by an observer, showing us the city and telling us the story, weaving together the general and the specific as we zoom in from a teeming city of millions to our little crime drama. In that way, it’s very self-conscious as a piece of cinema. Some of the shot-framing is so original for the time, I’m sure it must have contributed to the developing language of film.
But this isn’t one just for the cinema-history nerds. It’s a fast-paced thriller with engaging characters – I loved the Irish New Yorker police detective, he had the best lines. A classic. See it if you can.