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Saturday, December 7, 2013

DVD Review: Naked City

Even if you haven’t seen the excellent police drama Naked City, you are likely familiar with its tagline at the end of each episode: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” The series aired from 1958 to 1963, and stars Paul Burke, Horace McMahon, Harry Bellaver and Nancy Malone. They’re all wonderful, but one of the biggest draws at this point is the show’s supporting cast in each episode. Many of those people have gone on to become our most well-known and accomplished actors. Folks like Martin Sheen, James Caan (then credited as Jimmy Caan), William Shatner, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight, Telly Savalas, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Edward Asner, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken (credited as Ronnie Walken), Peter Falk, and Dustin Hoffman all make appearances in this series.

 Those excellent actors aside, this show is a really well written, unusual, intelligent and engaging police drama, with its own feel. It tackles some serious subjects, as well. For example, one of my favorite episodes, “Prime Of Life” (1962), deals with the subject of capital punishment. It’s a very intense episode, a lot of it done without dialogue. That episode opens with Detective Adam Flint going to witness the execution of a man he arrested. The episode takes its time with the procedure of the witnesses (all men) arriving, lining up, showing the contents of their pockets, waiting. This is intercut with several flashbacks, including one where Adam is trying to make up his mind whether to attend. In that flashback, Mike tells him: “Either it will open up something inside of you or close it up forever. And when you come back, you’ll either be a better man or a worse. But you won’t be the same.” Another flashback has a great shot from the criminal’s perspective as he shoots a policeman from a rooftop. “Prime Of Life” features Gene Hackman as a reporter who is another witness to the execution.

Another excellent and unusual episode is “Portrait Of A Painter,” which stars William Shatner as Roger Barmer, a troubled painter who has finally become capable of love, only to discover his love dead on the floor of their apartment. He runs to his therapist, wanting to find out if he himself committed the murder. The therapist is biased against him, having wanted to commit him earlier. The scene with the two of them is particularly excellent.

Probably my favorite episode is “The Tragic Success Of Alfred Tiloff,” which stars Jack Klugman as a 46-year-old failure with a loving but nagging wife. She convinces him to kidnap a little girl in order to make some money. This excellent episode has a great pace, and great performances all round. I also like how the episode gets more serious as it goes.

“Shoes For Vinnie Winford” (1961) stars Dennis Hopper as the title character, a man who has inherited his father’s company and fortune, and who has trouble at his first board meeting, the proceedings being a bit over his head. He also runs a dance hall, and has a temper, using intimidation with his girls. So yes, even early on, Dennis Hopper played slightly crazy characters with an edge. By the way, he’s fantastic in this role.

The show also displays a good sense of humor at times. For example in the episode “The Multiplicity Of Herbert Konish,” a strange episode about a man who is leading at least three distinct lives, there is this bit of dialogue:
Adam: “What are we booking him on?”
Mike: “How would I know? Questioning in the disappearance of Ripple.”
Frank: “But he is Ripple.”
Mike: “That’s a good reason to question him.”

And where else can you see a young Robert Redford don a Nazi uniform? (Check out “Tombstone For A Derelict” for that one.)

By the way, the first season has a somewhat different cast, including John McIntire and James Franciscus (but still with Harry Bellaver). That first season the show was only a half hour, not an hour. One of the interesting episodes that season finds Jimmy shooting a criminal in the line of duty. It is ruled justifiable homicide, but Jimmy is uneasy about it, and so investigates the guy, learning more about him.

Naked City: The Complete Series was released on DVD on November 5, 2013 through Image Entertainment.

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