Tony (Jean Servais of Le Plaisir and Thomas the Impostor) is a down-on-his-luck gambler (is there any other kind of gambler?) just out of jail. His ex-girl Mado has taken up with dangerous gangster Pierre Grutter. But Tony’s family-man brother Jo has a plan for a jewelry heist that will get ’em back on top, so they recruit a couple more guys.

L-R: Jo, Mario, Tony, Cesar (Dassin himself):

What follows is one of the best heist scenes in the movies – a half-hour of tense work with no music or dialogue, tunnelling through floor of an above apartment (using inverted umbrella to catch their own dust), disabling alarm by spraying its insides with a fire extinguisher, then drilling the safe, all barely in time as outside, police notice the getaway car.

Bunuelian nightclub – set designer Alexandre Trauner worked on both pictures:

Viviane (Magali Noel, a Fellini hottie in Satyricon and Amarcord) singing the film’s theme song:

Safe escape is made, but Grutter and his gang (including a dopehead brother) know who’s behind the heist and figure they can take Tony’s ramshackle gang. Safecracker Cesar is kidnapped after giving a pocketed jewel to Viviane (she thinks it’s fake anyway), later executed by Tony. Mario (Robert Manuel of La Vie est un roman) and his wife Ida are killed by the Grutters, and Jo’s young son is kidnapped. Some confusion ensues and Jo gets himself killed after his brother has already retrieved the kid. Great scene as Tony speeds home with the kid and money in back seat, outrunning his fatal gunshot wound.

Tony drives his nephew home:

Cesar death scene:

Dassin’s triumphant euro-comeback after getting blacklisted from Hollywood, winning him best director at Cannes.

J. Hook on the heist: “It is a scene you’ve seen before (shameless imitators have been cannibalizing it for decades), but you will never see it so purely, respectfully done as here.” His article is nice, gushing about the movie’s greatness then finally revealing how and why that greatness might have come about.

Tony with Mado:

Gangsters at Mario and Ida’s house:

Aw, crumbs. I thought I’d written a whole lot about The Naked City already, then I click over here a couple weeks later and find a blank page. I did watch it twice (once with commentary) and check out all the DVD extras, but I didn’t write anything. So I’ll be brief.

Katy and I were impressed by this crime scene sketch:

Single-handedly created the police procedural, the idea that a single Sherlock Holmes/Sam Spade detective doesn’t solve a case, but rather a large team, labs and research and lots of hard work. So it’s an ensemble cast, led by young cop Don Taylor (of Stalag 17 and Flying Leathernecks, also directed Planet of the Apes 3, Omen 2 and The Final Countdown) and older wiser Irish cop Barry Fitzgerald (The Quiet Man, Bringing Up Baby). A girl has been killed, so her friend from work (Dorothy Hart), her slimy, mysterious buddy (he’s also the work friend’s fiancee: House Jameson, later appearing in some episodes of the Naked City TV series) and her doctor Howard Duff (A Wedding, While the City Sleeps) are all questioned. Turns out the buddy is a thief but no killer – real bad guy is pugilist/harmonicist Ted de Corsia (Lady from Shanghai, The Enforcer), who gets a boffo chase scene down and up the Williamsburg bridge at the climax.

Our two heroes:

A remarkable movie, better than I was expecting. Works as a sordid crime investigation drama, and somehow with all that complicated/groundbreaking location shooting they found the time to produce some excellent shots. From Luc Sante’s Criterion essay: “Hellinger chose as his cinematographer William Daniels, a great craftsman – once known as Garbo’s cameraman – whose career demonstrates how brief the history of the movies has been: he shot Greed (1925) at one end of it and Valley of the Dolls (1967) at the other.”


The producer (who also narrates) was a former newspaper man who would work on city crime scenes. He died a week after the first sneak preview of Naked City.

Jameson: a real loser

J Hoberman:

“The Naked City,” an otherwise conventional police procedural that, like Brute Force, was among its year’s top-grossing movies, was distinguished mainly for its Lower East Side locations and what the critic James Agee called the “majestic finish” of its chase across the Williamsburg Bridge. The cameraman William Daniels won an Oscar, but the movie was heavily re-edited before release, in part, Dassin said, because one of its screenwriters, Albert Maltz, was by then part of the blacklisted Hollywood 10.

Can’t remember the corny line the narrator said over this image: