In this movie the star is New York City at the height of its prominence as the largest city of the most powerful country on the planet. The tagline of the movie is “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.” And almost every shot of the film highlights the sights and sounds of New York. Everything from the crowded subway cars and crowded streets to dizzying vistas on the tops of buildings and the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.
The story begins with the late-night murder of Jean Dexter, a pretty blonde model. It is followed by one of the two murderers killing his partner for being too soft-hearted.
The murder of Jean Dexter falls into the lap of police Lt. Dan Muldoon played with his best Irish brogue by Barry Fitzgerald. Assisted by detective Jimmy Halloran played by Don Taylor they run down leads until they find Frank Niles, played by Howard Duff. Every word coming out of Niles’ mouth, including “and and but” is a lie. And when they find out that he is engaged to Jean’s close friend Ruth Morrison but that Ruth doesn’t even know that Niles was a close friend of Dexter they know they’ve found their connection. At every step Niles shows himself to be tied to the murder and to a jewel robbery ring. But at the same time all evidence clears him of Jean’s murder.
Finally, the clues add up to the fact that Jean Dexter and Frank Niles were the brains behind the jewelry theft ring. They hired two burglars and used information from the husband of a society matron to rob the houses of the wealthy when it was known that they would be at a party. But finally, the burglars decided to cut Jean out of the picture by murdering and robbing her. Under threat that he would be indicted as an accessory to murder Niles confesses and provides the names of the two burglars.
The climax of the movie is a manhunt and a shootout between the police and the murderer while he is cornered at the top of one of the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge, hundreds of feet in the air.
In a lot of ways, the movie is a standard police procedural. But there are enough secondary players to round out the story in a satisfying way. We meet detective Halloran’s wife and young son and hope with him that he won’t have to obey his wife and spank his son for crossing Northern Boulevard by himself. We meet Jean Dexter’s parents and watch as the mother goes from declaring her hatred for her prodigal daughter to crying over her “baby” and hugging Jean’s cold dead body in the morgue. We even meet the murderer’s Lower East Side neighbors who know him as the friendly harmonica playing guy that all the kids like.
This is not a great movie. It’s a good one. I recommend it as what it is, an interesting police story.