Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
USA, 1948. Hellinger Productions, Universal International Pictures. Screenplay by Albert Maltz, Malvin Wald, from a story by Malvin Wald. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Mark Hellinger. Music by Miklos Rozsa, Frank Skinner. Production Design by John DeCuir. Costume Design by Grace Houston. Film Editing by Paul Weatherwax.
Film noir is placed on the real streets of New York City in this powerful murder mystery directed by Jules Dassin. Producer Mark Hellinger narrates the film, whose on-location production was unheard of in the studio era, and sadly died before the film’s premiere and never saw the effect he had on gritty crime dramas to come: aside from the long-running, acclaimed television series that it inspired almost a decade later, there’s no denying that no police procedural or true crime-inspired film wasn’t affected by the blistering images captured by William Daniels’ Oscar-winning cinematography here. A collage of characters and situations are presented as part of the “eight million stories” that make up the asphalt jungle of Manhattan, one of them capturing our attention as we see a woman murdered by two men in her apartment. Her body is discovered by her housekeeper the next morning, who calls the police (headed by a miscast and ridiculous Barry Fitzgerald) and sets their investigation into motion. Interviewing the victim’s friends creates a morass of conflicting backgrounds and motivations, fellow model Dorothy Hart is engaged to a fabric broker (Howard Duff) for whom the deceased did modeling work, and there’s mention of a man who was often her guest but who cannot be located. The fresh air of the real streets give an extra, powerful pulse to a familiar detective story that feels ripped from the headlines, made that much more vibrant by performances that you’d expect from an Elia Kazan movie (including, among the smaller gems, the woman’s hard-bitten but heartbroken parents played by Adelaide Klein and Grover Burgess). Dassin delivers the most memorable thrills in the final, exciting climax atop the Williamsburg Bridge.
The Criterion Collection: #380
Academy Awards: Best Cinematography-BW; Best Film Editing
Nomination: Best Motion Picture Story