DVD Review: Naked City: The Complete Series



Naked City isn’t the latest after hours offering from HBO after dark. There’s no actual nudity. The naked element comes from how the show strips down New York City. The series was based on the Oscar winning movie. The Naked City set a precedence in 1948 by giving a documentary feel to a police procedural drama. Director Jules Dassin (Rififi) took the cameras into the heart of New York City to capture the action. This was not a film recreating everything on a quiet Hollywood soundstage. The finale on the Brooklyn Bridge excited viewers and inspired filmmakers to get off the backlot. The TV show version of didn’t merely bring us the updated adventures of Detective Jimmy Halloran and Lt. Dan Muldoon when it launched in 1958. It also remembered the third star of the movie: New York City. The show opened with the narrator proclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see The Naked City. I’m Bert Leonard, the producer. This story was not photographed in a studio. Quite the contrary. The actors played out their roles in the streets and the buildings of New York itself.” Naked City: The Complete Series contains 138 of the 8 million stories in the Naked City.

The first season used the title The Naked City. The producers squeezed the police action into a thirty minute slot which kept things at a frantic New York City pace. “Meridian” has two characters about to take a step up as a cop and a criminal. Former officer Jimmy Halloran (Beneath the Planet of the Apes‘s James Franciscus) is just starting his gig as a detective in the 65th Precinct. His partner and older mentor is Lt. Dan Muldoon (Psycho‘s John McIntire). Little does he know that across the city another young man was going to also get promoted in the criminal life. A teenager living in squalor agrees to join a seedy pal on a criminal enterprise. He gets more than imagined when a cop dies and hostages get involved. The new detective and the newly minted criminal come face to face with their futures at stake. This first episode does a fine job of setting up the series letting viewers know that this isn’t going to normal cop show. We were going to get a sense of how certain individuals get involved in a life of crime. This wasn’t going to be a constant stereotype of the bad guy just being bad. The villain doesn’t merely exist to be stopped by the cops. “Nickel Ride” has Dan and Jimmy investigating one thing and finding a major crime right beneath them. In this case they’re checking out a captain on the Staten Island Ferry. The guy has been reportedly skipping in his skills. During their inspection, a Brinks truck is being heisted. Burglars get creative in “Belvedere Tower.” They disguise themselves as milkmen to break into rich peoples’ apartments. “Lady Bug, Lady Bug” is a semi-shocker as a young Peter Falk (Columbo) is on the wrong side of the law. He’s an extortionist going to extremes to make his victim pay up. “And a Merry Christmas to the Force on Patrol” lets Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.) rob and kill on the holiday. “The Man Hole” captures George Maharis. What’s interesting is that the script is from Stirling Silliphant. He would create Maharis’ signature series Route 66. “The Shield” has Jack Klugman (Quincy) as a cop whose son, Vic Morrow (Combat) wants to join the force against his mother’s wishes.

“Fire Island” isn’t about what Fire Island is known for now. The cops must hunt down bootleggers led by Henry Hull (Werewolf of London). Maharis returns as a bootlegger with Silliphant’s script. “The Bumper” is a shocker. John McIntire wanted out of the series. He wasn’t happy working in the Big City and wanted off the show. The producers agreed and shockingly had his character killed by a hitman. “A Running of the Bulls” brought on Det Lt. Mike Parker (Horace McMahon) to be Halloran’s new partner. The change of cast didn’t prove a real ratings boost. ABC axed the freshman series. It seemed gone since it wasn’t on the schedule for 1959-60. The cigarette company sponsor wanted the show back in the air. This was in the days that big tobacco ruled the airwaves. The Fall of 1960 saw the series back with several changes. The show was now an hour long and only known as Naked City. While McMahon would return as Lt. Parker, Franciscus was gone. Paul Burke would be the new young face on the squad as Det. Adam Flint. Expanding the show to an hour ultimately gave the series more time to show off New York City. There is a real cinematic feel to the 51 minutes of each episode.

“A Death of Princes” brings Det. Flint into the precursor of Training Day. He’s teamed up with the well respected vet Det. Bane (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘s Eli Wallach). Bane has his own rules when he guns down a suspect. Flint can’t believe what’s Bane has been doing around the precinct. But can he really bring down super cop? “To Walk in Silence” allows Telly Savalas to be be on location nearly a decade before Kojak. “The Human Trap” gives us future super cop Jack Lord as part of a homicide case involving an ice pick. Naked City‘s use of real locations would inspire his upcoming Hawaii Five-O series. “The Man Who Bit a Diamond in Half” is a jewel heist gone bad. Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple) gets dragged into the trouble. The series was amazing in guest casting with future stars including Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, William Shatner, Christopher Walken, Jean Stapleton, Carroll O’Connor, Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, Robert Loggia, Robert Redford, Leslie Nielsen, Tom Bosley, Peter Fonda, Alan Alda, James Caan, Doris Roberts, Suzanne Pleshette, Ed Asner, Burgess Meredith, Rip Torn, Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, Mickey Rooney, George C. Scott, James Coburn, Vic Morrow, Rod Steiger, George Segal, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam and others. The show wasn’t too formulaic in its plots. They varied between homicides to extremely odd cases. “Ooftus Goofus” has Mickey Rooney as a prankster with big plans to cause chaos. He sneaks into a grocery store with a price gun to inflict a massive sale. “And By the Sweat of Thy Brow” is a rather hypnotic tale a young boy with a disfigured face taking a girl on a tour of the neighborhood in the wee hours. He a small time crook with a good heart. When Flint busts him, the cop doesn’t throw the book at him. He offers the kid a chance to go straight by helping one of his favorite places to pilfer.

Naked City was canceled once more after its fourth season. There would be no last minute tinkering from the sponsor to achieve salvation. The 138 episodes would insure it would be remembered in syndication even if they were 7,999,862 stories show short of their goal. Naked City deserves to be rediscovered by people who enjoy cop shows because of the quality in the scripts and performances. The location work allows viewers to enjoy a trip back to New York City in the early ’60s. There’s so much to see in the background as the detectives of the 65th Precinct roam their turf looking for clues. Over half a century later, Naked City remains a top cop show.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers for the most part look fine. There are a couple episodes in the first season that look like they were lifted from rougher sources with lower resolution. This seems to heighten the gritty nature of the show. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Things sound fine although the location sound improves as the series goes on.

Commercials (12:06) are a dozen of the sponsors from the run of Naked City. Take pleasure in how cigarettes were promoted. Peter Lorre endorses a flexible watchband. There’s a lot of great claims on the over the counter medicine.

Naked City is a TV show that hasn’t lost its power. The police action remains vital viewing thanks to creative scripts and seductive location work in New York City. Naked City is the foundation that gave us Streets of San Francisco, Hill Street Blues and The Wire.

RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment present Naked City: The Complete Series. Starring: James Franciscus, John McIntire, Paul Burke and Horace McMahon. Boxset Contents: 138 episodes on 29 DVDs. Released: November 5, 2013.

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