The Naked City ★★★★★

I loved this so, so much, and it absolutely cemented my opinion of Jules Dassin as one of the very best directors of this era. I've seen it billed as a Noir, but The Naked City is really a mix of styles - there's a crime story at its heart, but the crew are so delighted at filming on location in New York City that elements of documentary and neo-realism style footage of people going about their daily lives give this a strange, fresh feel.

It's by no means perfect; the large cast showcase an extremely mixed level of talent. Most of the main cast are fine, but there are actors in smaller roles who over- or underact considerably. The bizarre narration is also a mixed blessing. Rather than the classic noir voiceover that gives the viewers a look inside the protagonist's head, the film's producer here introduces the film (again, clearly delighted by the location shooting) and interjects occasionally to commentate on passers by, berate the villains and generally smash the fourth wall into pieces. I can see how it could be offputting for some, but for me this was just another piece of oddball charm.

The criminal investigation that provides the main plot is a really fun one. Starting with a murder, it expands to cover jewel thieves, hoods betraying each other, unreliable confessions, misleading testimony... the investigation is shared between an older cop, wise and smart, and his younger partner, entrusted with the "leg work". It delights in tiny details, almost sensationalising the less interesting parts of the job, if that makes any sense. That narrator pops up occasionally to mention the younger cop's dismay at having to visit every jeweller in New York. Young cop goes home to his wife and the entire plot is briefly derailed as he is tasked with disciplining his son... plenty of this stuff shouldn't work, but it does. It all does!

The climax is a glorious chase through the busy streets, all the more thrilling for the feeling of being there that the previous 75 minutes set up. The narrator is still there, rabbiting on about the villain's desperate attempts to find one last hiding place, of course... he flees into the upper levels of one of the city's bridges, and the entire skyline is suddenly on show, skyscrapers, tennis courts, rivers full of ships. It's fucking magical. I love this movie!

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