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Monday, August 26, 2013

Hellinger and Universal Take It To The Streets


New York From Asphalt Eye-View: The Naked City (1948)

What a blow to film noir was Mark Hellinger's death (in 1947), a potential leading light extinguished before fullest potential was realized. His three as an independent, The Killers, Brute Force, and The Naked City (that last released posthumously) were excellent to a fault: what may have followed can be imagined, especially as Hellinger had pledged talent to Humphrey Bogart's newly formed Santana company --- a creative combination of these two might have been more fruitful than HB's partnership with John Huston; certainly it would have given Bogart a second flush of classics to maybe trump work he'd done for Warners.


The Naked City makes of its grimy NY a land of Oz we moderns would long to visit, if not relocate to, what with theatres, night clubs, penthouse apartments, etc. The story is pure procedural, a novelty then, but it's on-the-spot you'll feel at all times watching. Is there a location shot 40's pic closer to the pavement? Hellinger's own narration captures what his column must have read like before energies were devoted to pic-making. Too bad there aren't scribes like him still making daily contribution to news sheets (but wait ... who reads print news anymore?). Universal-International would finance and release for Hellinger, though rights for both The Naked City and Brute Force reverted back to the producer's estate, enabling a double-bill reissue in 1956 and lease of the pair to Screen Gems for 1957 syndicated TV. Purely great is The Naked City, issued by Criterion in a splendid DVD, but also lately on Netflix and Hulu Plus in HD, a sublime way to view it.

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