The Naked City
The Naked Cityi is as beautiful a piece of literatureii as ever could be, up there with the finest productions of the counterfactual professions.
The voiceover by the producer (whom I shan't name just to piss him off) can get irritating in parts, but on one hand it is needed by the economy of the thing and on the other hand he does the "lady, have you seen a man, looks like this" bit quite well, so he's forgiven.
The photography is masterful, the film exactly flows as a succession of well composed photographs. Stop the reel wherever and look at the still : isn't it fine ? This is a major achievement, even if it may pass unobserved. Your brain doesn't miss it, even should your consciousness dwell other places -- this is the function of the presence of art in the environment, that it makes your life better without you necessarily noticing. And this is why marketeers should be impaled.
But the work by Barry Fitzgerald... why! It bears no comparison. His character, this joyousiii gnome of a homicide detective, a character so seductive you can't help wanting to help him, is what Hitchcock tried his whole life to achieve and died without managing. I do not know of better composition of a male actor, nor better execution of that intention, in the entire history of cinema. By all means, pick up this challenge : who ? Where ?
The script is fine, and deeply intelligent. As a forinstance, it has the young wife (who's nothing special, entirely bucktoothed girl next door) wear a scant swimsuit indoors (hey -- it's hot!) for her husband, and then call him a coward for failing to deliver their baby the needed beating. One can scarcely doubt she asks him for her own beating when she needs one, too.
As another forinstance, the whole construction makes perfect sense but without the overbearing, tiresome presumptiousness, so typical of the adolescent male mind as it is typical of the "noir" genre in general. The characters live, and breathe, and exist, they're not puffed up convention center props, they didn't come out of a dork's suitcase, they have the loose and pucker of actual skin on actual bodies of men and women. Nevermind the "gangsters" and complicatedly conspiracious pre-pantsuit worldview. Here's a simple story : an ambitious goodfornothing, the sort that'd run for office these days (and get it, especially in the "blue" states) pairs up with a hussy that's as hungry as if she grew up with the Depression (because she did) and a couple of thugs. The goal is to "rob" ie reallocate resources away from the senescent, pointedly useless pseudonobility of the land -- an altogether laudable idea. But he's weak, and his thugs smell it ; they however are dumb, and kill the girl "out of principle", which is to say exactly what Cagney should have done :
Say, you don't want to open up for might because fixated on the "smart" douchebag ? Cool. You hang in the morn.
Then they kill each other, and then they botch killing him, and then well... "Nothing doin', my boys will take care of 'em." as reality actually went ; or rather inspector Muldoon gets to crack the case, as a perfectly credible alternative.
Interlude : But Paddy dear, oh, don't forget... you are an Irish man.
The most important portion of all this, the part that makes it work and function, is the city. The naked city itself, splendid in its unabashed, ripe nudity. A New York still capable of being loved, sensible, architecturally sound even if a little worn in the skirting. The bridge, that great grand bridge nobody wishes to look at anymore, that nevertheless was in its day more of a bridge than any of these current globs of sputum will ever be people in all their born days, is the proper (and properly silent) lead actor of the final scenes. He is there, very carnally present, smiling down on its city. The city that made it because she needed it.
1949, apparently the last year I'd have, I could have considered working for the mainstream rather than against it.———
- 1948, by Jules Dassin, with Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart [↩]
- Let's talk about literature. What is it ?
Have you ever compared the wheel of a car with the engine block of another car ? No ? Good, me either.
There is no such thing as "books" or "movies" or "theatre" by themselves or "as such" ; not anymore than there's carwheels or engine blocks in isolation. Every piece of literature is the whole set : the novel (in all its restatements), and the screenplay (all of them), and the movie, and the theatrical play and the ideal theatrical performance, and the historical list of attempts. Exactly like how every word is more than just a word, including its etymology and history of usage and so forth. This is what allows me to rewrite a movie as a novel and everything else.
Sure, there's defective sets, lacking one or another lobe. So ? [↩]
- There's more hasidic yiddish in this one performance of an Irishman a century ago than there is in the entire collected summum of US Jewish associations today. Fact. [↩]