Archive for July 28th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

 There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

Jules Dassin’s 1948 film noir The Naked City was particularly prominent for its location photography on the streets of Manhattan.  Shot in  cinema verite style, the gritty realism that resulted practically made one think that Vittorio de Sica was part of the production team.  The use of alleyways, parks, restaurants, taverns, churches, industrial zones, steaming urban corners and landmarks like the Williamsburg Bridge, Penn Station, and the Chrysler Building worked against any perceived artificiality of the stories, thereby wedding fiction narrative with the perception that what has been seen and heard actually took place.  The film’s producer Mark Hellinger handled the film’s narration, which was one of the most effective ever delivered for a movie, both in substance and discarnate delivery.  In the opening five minutes Hellinger expresses plaintive and philosophical thoughts about the concept of a city which are juxtaposed with evocative images of New York in the late 1940s.  He explains that actors will tell the tale and consequently as viewers we  highly conscious that this is a “staged” documentary film played out in the background of real life. Though the main thrust of the film, and a vital claim of it be classified as a noir is the search for truth in a climate of murder and deceit, it is invariably the manner in which the city of New York takes on its own life, a sleepless, merciless  asphalt jungle that is unremittingly corrupt. Much of what Dassin coordinated in the film was revisited in his Night in the City a year later, though his setting there was a monochromatic London.  The Naked City is also a prime example of a police procedural, chronicling as it does an investigation into the murder of a young model by homicide detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and his assistant Jimmy Halloran   The film’s cinematographer William H. Daniels and editor Paul Weatherwax deservedly won Academy Awards for their work.

In 1957, a television producer named Herbert Leonard- who had scored impressively a few years earlier with Rin Tin Tin- contacted Hellinger’s widow (sadly the film’s producer had died just a month after the film’s shoot completed) to secure the rights for a show to be loosely based on the Dassin film.  After the deal was signed, and some powerful sponsors in place the Screen Gems television division of Columbia Pictures asks acclaimed writer Sterling Silliphant to take up the role as primary scribe.    The series centered on the detectives of NYPD’s 65th Precinct, located in the Broadway theater district, although episode plots usually focused more on the criminals and victims portrayed by guest stars, characteristic of the “semi-anthology” narrative format common in early 1960s television. Primary writer Stirling Silliphant nurtured a focus on intelligent drama with elements of comedy and pathos, leading to significant critical acclaim for the series and attracting film and television actors of the time to seek out guest-starring roles. In addition to Silliphant, one of the busiest and most respected writers of the period, and winner of an Academy Award for his script for  In the Heat of the Night, those entrusted to craft the stories included veteran writer Howard Rodman,  blacklisted screenwriter Arnold Manoff, writing under the pseudonym Joel Carpenter, and perhaps most notably, Abram Ginnes, who wrote some of the show’s most poignant and profound episodes. (more…)

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