The Film Noir Blogathon celebrates this unique genre of crime stories, especially from the 1940s and 50s, hosted by The Midnite Drive-in. For a list of participating blogs, visit the website.
The Naked City
Modern movies shoot on location all over New York's five boroughs so often, one sometimes feels as if they're living on a set. It's a fun sensation most of the time, although I've probably gotten jaded by the experience by now. Back in the day, it was different. Lots of Old Hollywood movies used New York as their setting, but many of those settings were no more than sets on California studio lots, made to resemble Manhattan in a general, roundabout way.
As a New Yorker, I've learned to accept this when watching an old movie. It's like watching a stage play: you fill in the gaps or paper over the inaccuracies with your imagination and concede the physical limitations. Seeing so many modern films and TV shows filmed on location has spoiled me for sure. It's always nice to spot a cafe you've eaten in or a retail shop you used to work at in the background of a movie.
Watching The Naked City, therefore, was a pleasant twist. This wasn't the first Old Hollywood movie shot on the streets of New York I've seen - Hitchcock's The Wrong Man was filmed here in Queens, for example - but this movie also made a strong effort to capture everyday life in the Big Apple while telling a murder mystery.
Naturally, I don't remember Manhattan as it was in 1948, but that's why we have websites like this one. Scouting NY, among other things, compares New York movie locations, then and now. The differences between Manhattan in the movie and today are dramatic, to say the least. There's little I recognize, and what does look familiar, such as the Williamsburg Bridge, isn't quite the same.
City is the vision of producer Mark Hellinger, who cheekily narrates the film. The title comes from a 1945 photo book on New York by the famed photographer known only as Weegee. He worked on the film as a visual consultant.
Hellinger was a New York journalist for the Daily News and the Daily Mirror, whose column was syndicated in 174 newspapers. He came to Hollywood in 1937. His short story "The World Moves On" was the basis for the Cagney/Bogey flick The Roaring Twenties. As a producer, Hellinger worked on, among other films, The Killers, They Drive By Night and High Sierra. Sadly, he died only weeks before City was released.
City is a wonderful time capsule of post-war urban life. I had heard stories of how New York used to be all my life, but actually seeing things that seem unimaginable today, such as swimming in the East River, is something else. It wasn't a completely idyllic time - many things about this period deserve to be dead and buried forever - but it's good to be able to look at it from a safe distance.
Other film noir movies:
On Dangerous Ground
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The File on Thelma Jordon
Lady in the Lake
The Wrong Man
The Big Heat
Pickup on South Street