The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Naked City

A combination of some French New Wave techniques, pseudo-documentary filmmaking and just a hint of some film noir, 1948’s The Naked City, directed by Jules Dassin, is a movie both a sign of the times it was made in and a sign of the things that were yet to come in moviemaking.  But at its most basic, Dassin’s film is enjoyable, always entertaining, and a fascinating look into what police work used to be in a pre-computer, pre-Internet time.

Shows like CSI (and all its incarnations), Law and Order, NYPD Blue, and a long list of procedural police shows on television – not to mention countless cop movies – have given viewers a window into what it must be like in solving a case.  Of course, there’s that flaw that every crime can be solved in an hour with all sorts of ridiculous technology at the police’s disposal.  But what about those police officers who had to walk the streets, knock on doors, and work the phones to follow evidence and get their man?  It seems like such a dated procedure watching it in film-form, but it worked for many years.  Damn technology, always making things easier for us.

One lazy Monday morning, a young, blonde dress model is murdered in her apartment. The Homicide squad is called to the crime scene where the young woman was seemingly drowned in her bathtub.  But evidence points out that she was knocked out with chloroform and forcibly held under water when she started to struggle.  Two detectives, Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald), a 30-plus year veteran of the force, and Lt. Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor), a WWII veteran and a relative newbie on the force, take the lead, trying to figure out the murderer.  The evidence they have is minimal, and all they have is a name to work with; Henderson.  But as the hours turn into days, their chances of closing the case get slimmer and slimmer.

Where those already mentioned TV shows tend to wrap up their cases in an hour – and seemingly in a single day and often in a few hours – Dassin’s movie has no such luxury.  With little evidence to work with, the New York homicide detectives are forced to follow each and every lead they have, no matter how inconsequential they may seem.  That’s what Dassin revels in with this 96-minute police procedural.  Those tiny leads are filtered out, and the police try to figure out what is and isn’t important.  It’s surprisingly effective because there’s no big twist, no huge revelation. This is a murder case with no frills, plain and simple.

Muldoon and Halloran – two good Irish cop names if there ever were – are the stars of the film.  Irish actor Fitzgerald plays Muldoon a cop who’s seen everything and has a knack for figuring cases out.  Whenever he’s convinced there’s an unknown suspect, he dubs him ‘J. McGillicuddy’ instead of John Doe until they can figure out who he is.  Muldoon takes the young detective in Halloran under his wing, teaching him as best he can.  Halloran is a good cop, if inexperienced, and thrives in situations where he’s forced to track down leads and work the streets for information.  They form a good team together as the case unfolds in front of them.

Made in 1948, the best part of Dassin’s movie is its realism in terms of story and style.  With the exception of scenes in the police office or in a few apartments, the movie was shot entirely on location in New York City.  Scenes of Taylor’s Halloran interviewing witnesses on the street were filmed on those streets.  The finale especially stands out as the murderer makes a run for it with the police chasing him, leading up an exciting showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s authentic from the start, and serves as quite a time capsule for late 1940s New York City.  That on-location shooting gives the movie an authentic feel that just couldn’t have been duplicated on a Hollywood set.
This isn’t a great movie, but the no-frills storytelling pays off in the end.  It’s a straightforward look at the nitty gritty police work, the day-to-day and even hour-to-hour development of the cases they’re trying to solve.  None of the cast other than Fitzgerald and Taylor are that memorable, but overpowering acting from a supporting cast would seem out of place.  Dassin lets his two leads work things out and in the end, get the job done.  Couldn't find a trailer online, but you can watch the movie at Youtube, starting with Part 1 of 10.
The Naked City 

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