Classic Reaction — Jules Dassin’s Naked City

The first time I viewed The Naked City, I wasn’t impressed with it. I appreciated the style in which it told the story, but it never captivated me. I decided to pick it up on Blu-ray during a Criterion flash sale and I’m so glad I did.

The Naked City take a realistic approach to the crime drama. So realistic that it may appear mundane. Yet that is its greatest virtue. A film released post WWII had to provide some reassurance. A great evil was just fought and defeated. Films needed to be able to show that as well. Now it’s one thing to have a big star in a crime drama as a police detective and solve the crime, we expect that. Since The Naked City is not a film of star power, we the viewers are able to relate much more to the day to day task we see performed by the police in their investigation into the death of Jean Dexter.

The performance of the repetitive acts as a comfort, particularly to the American male. Having returned from the war, he must feel that what he does has a purpose. Fighting and dying for your country certainly is a purpose. Yet with Naked City, we see the police do these same tasks throughout the film and it proves to have a purpose. Each run through of these tasks takes us one step closer to the solving of the murder. And it’s not just police, but we see people of many occupations shown doing what they do every day. Unlike many films which glorify police (and you may still interpret this as doing so, or at least lionized them), the film just shows people doing their job. In a Post-war U.S. people needed to see that their lives possessed purpose and meaning. That while part of the machine, they could be proud of their function in the machine and the end result of the part they play.

The police may be the focus, but The Naked City is not just a crime drama/film noir. It is a film to comfort and reassure people that we all play a part in the many stories of the city.