The Naked City

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The Naked City
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJules Dassin
Screenplay byAlbert Maltz
Malvin Wald
Story byMalvin Wald
Produced byMark Hellinger
StarringBarry Fitzgerald
Howard Duff
Dorothy Hart
Don Taylor
Narrated byMark Hellinger
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byPaul Weatherwax
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Frank Skinner
Mark Hellinger Productions
Distributed byUniversal-International
Release date
  • March 4, 1948 (1948-03-04) (US)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.4 million[1]

The Naked City (a.k.a. Naked City) is a 1948 American crime procedural produced by Mark Hellinger, directed by Jules Dassin, written by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald. Starring Barry Fitzgerald, with Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart and Don Taylor in support, the film depicts the police investigation that follows the murder of a young model. It was shot almost entirely on location in New York City.

Naked City received two Academy Awards, one for cinematography for William H. Daniels and another for film editing to Paul Weatherwax.[2] In 2007, the highly influential film[3] was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4]


In the late hours of a hot New York summer night two men chloroform ex-model Jean Dexter, then drown her in her bathtub. When one of them gets conscience-stricken while drunk, the other kills him and throws his body into the East River.

Experienced detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and novice Det. Jimmy Halloran are assigned to the case. At the scene the medical examiner determines the “accidental” death had actually been murder. A pair of men’s pajamas yields only the name “Philip Henderson” from her housekeeper, who drops a bombshell that Dexter’s hoard of expensive jewelry is missing. A bottle of sleeping pills leads Halloran to the doctor who prescribed them, Lawrence Stoneman. Ruth Morrison, a model friend of Jean’s, is also located and questioned.

Back at the police station, Muldoon interrogates Frank Niles, Jean's ex-boyfriend, who lies about everything. He claims only a business relationship with Jean and denies knowing Ruth, although the pair are actually engaged. He lies himself into becoming the prime murder suspect, but has an airtight alibi. Later, Muldoon deduces from the bruises on Jean's neck that she was killed by at least two men.

The detectives learn that Niles has just sold an expensive cigarette case stolen from Stoneman, then purchased a one-way airline ticket to Mexico City. They also discover that one of Jean's rings was stolen from the home of a Mrs. Hylton. At the matron’s Park Avenue apartment the police learn that the ring actually belonged to her socialite daughter, who, to their surprise, turns out to be Ruth Morrison.

Finding that Ruth's engagement ring was stolen in a different robbery, Muldoon and Halloran take Ruth to Niles' apartment. There they interrupt someone attempting to chloroform him, who shoots his way down the fire escape and disappears onto a nearby elevated train. When questioned about the stolen jewelry, Niles claims he had gotten everything as gifts from Jean, raising eyebrows all round. Realizing she is engaged to both a pathological liar and a criminal, Ruth slaps him hysterically. Niles is then arrested for the jewel thefts, but remains mum about his attacker.

The body of small-time jewel thief Peter Backalis is fished out of the East River; he’d been murdered within hours of Jean, and Halloran believes the two killings are connected. Muldoon, although skeptical, lets Halloran pursue the lead and assigns two veteran detectives already on the case to help out. Through considerable legwork they learn that Backalis' last known accomplice had been Willie Garzah, a former wrestler who plays the harmonica. While Halloran and his team canvass the Lower East Side with an old publicity photograph of him, Muldoon demands Niles identify Jean's mystery boyfriend. He reveals that "Henderson" is the same Dr. Stoneman, a married society physician.

At Stoneman's office Muldoon uses Niles to trap the doctor into implicating himself, who confesses that he became obsessed with Jean only to learn that she and Niles were using him in order to rob his wealthy friends. Niles then admits to planning the thefts, but says Backalis and Garzah did the jobs; denied a larger cut, they killed Jean.

On his own, Halloran locates Garzah and unsuccessfully tries to take him into custody. Lulled, the green detective is rabbit punched unconscious by the thug, who then attempts to dissolve into the crowded city. As police descend upon the neighborhood and Halloran joins the search, Garzah panics and draws attention to himself by shooting a blind man's guide dog. He races onto the Williamsburg Bridge, but as police approach from both directions starts climbing one of the towers. Shot, wounded, and bloodied by the dog, he still refuses to surrender; gunfire is exchanged, he is hit, and plummets to his death.

The following morning a trashman sweeps a gutter of yesterday’s newspapers, and with them the Jean Dexter case. A concluding voiceover states, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."


Publicity stills from The Naked City


The visual style of The Naked City was inspired by New York photographer Weegee, who published a book of photographs of New York life titled Naked City (1945).[5] Weegee was hired as a visual consultant on the film, and is credited with helping to craft its imagery.[6] But film historian William Park has argued that, despite Weegee's work on the film and its title coming from Weegee's earlier work, the film owes its visual style more to Italian neorealism rather than Weegee's photographic work.[7]

The musical scoring process was contentious. Hellinger allowed Dassin to assign a former M-G-M colleague, the arranger George Bassman, to compose the music. Hellinger found this so unsatisfactory that, on the night before he died, he begged his own first choice, Miklós Rózsa, to step in. Rózsa concentrated on the climactic chase and epilogue, while Frank Skinner scored the early scenes. Rózsa later compiled a "Mark Hellinger Suite" of music from his three Hellinger pictures (including The Killers and Brute Force). The Naked City epilogue, "Song of a Great City", was Rózsa's tribute to the producer.[8]

The movie features the uncredited film debuts of Kathleen Freeman, Bruce Gordon, James Gregory, Nehemiah Persoff, and John Randolph in small roles. Randolph, along with Paul Ford, who also had a small part, was appearing at the time on the New York stage in Command Decision. John Marley, Arthur O'Connell, David Opatoshu, and Molly Picon had small, uncredited roles.

Producer Mark Hellinger, who also narrated the film, was only 44 when he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1947, after reviewing the final cut of the film at his home.[9]


Box office[edit]

The film was a considerable hit at the box office.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, while having problems both with the script and Dassin’s direction, liked the location shooting and wrote, "Thanks to the actuality filming of much of its action in New York, a definite parochial fascination is liberally assured all the way and the seams in a none-too-good whodunnit are rather cleverly concealed. And thanks to a final, cops-and-robbers 'chase' through East Side Manhattan and on the Williamsburg Bridge, a generally talkative mystery story is whipped up to a roaring 'Hitchcock' end."[11]

In July 2018, the film was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.[12]

Awards and honors[edit]



  • Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Writing, Motion Picture Story, Malvin Wald; 1949.
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film from any Source, USA; 1949.[13]
  • Writers Guild of America: WGA Award (Screen), Best Written American Drama, Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald; The Robert Meltzer Award (Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene), Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald; 1949.



  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety, 5 January 1949, p. 46
  2. ^ Lewis and Smoodin, p. 379.
  3. ^ The Naked City Harvard Film Review, October 21, 2001
  4. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence. "Films Chosen For Registry." New York Times (December 28, 2007)
  5. ^ Willett, p. 91; Eagan, p. 413; Spicer, p. 320.
  6. ^ Naremore, p. 281.
  7. ^ Park, p. 60.
  8. ^ See Rózsa's Double Life (1982, 1989) and Gergely Hubai, Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores (2012).
  9. ^ Wald, Maltz, and Bruccoli, p. 146.
  10. ^ Variety (7 May 2018). "Variety (March 1948)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. Retrieved 7 May 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Naked City, Mark Hellinger's Final Film, at Capitol – Fitzgerald Heads Cast." New York Times. March 5, 1948. Accessed 2008-01-30.
  12. ^ "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". 13 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  13. ^ "Awards Database." The British Academy of Film and Television Arts. No date. Accessed 2012-02-11.
  14. ^ Newcomb, p. 1585-1586.


  • Eagan, Daniel. America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry. New York: Continuum, 2010.
  • Krutnik, Frank. "Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2008.
  • Lewis, Jon and Smoodin, Eric Loren. Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007.
  • Naremore, James. More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2008.
  • Newcomb, Horace. Encyclopedia of Television. Vol. 1. New York: CRC Press, 2004.
  • Park, William. What Is Film Noir? Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2011.
  • Sadoul, Georges and Morris, Peter. Dictionary of Films. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1972.
  • Spicer, Andrew. Historical Dictionary of Film Noir. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
  • Wald, Marvin; Maltz, Albert; and Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph. The Naked City: A Screenplay. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1948.
  • Willett, Ralph. The Naked City: Urban Crime Fiction in the USA. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

External links[edit]