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Naked City: The Complete Series (DVD Review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Directors: Alex March, Arthur Hiller, Buzz Kulik, Elliot Silverstein, John Brahm, etc.
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Discs: DVD Box Set including 29 discs
Label: RLJ Entertainment
DVD Release Date: November 5, 2013
Run Time: 6,063 minutes

Video

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Format: Black & White, NTSC

Audio

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Box Art for the Naked City: The Complete Series Release

Box Art for the Naked City: The Complete Series DVD Release

Naked City was like no other TV series before or since – Michael Moriarty, star of Law and Order, once told this reviewer.

Inspired by Jules Dassin’s 1948 film of the same name, Naked City centers on the detectives of the NYPD’s 65th Precinct, but the criminals and New York City itself often played as prominent a role in the dramas as the series regulars. Like the film it was based on, Naked City (1958- 1963) was shot almost entirely on location. The first season ran as a half-hour show under the title The Naked City, starring James Franciscus and John McIntire playing, respectively, Detective Jimmy Halloran and Lieutenant Dan Muldoon — the same roles essayed by Don Taylor and Barry Fitzgerald in the film.

The Naked City also starred Harry Bellaver as Det. Frank Arcaro. When the series was expanded to an hour, the producers brought in handsome Paul Burke as Det. Adam Flint and gruff Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker to replace Franciscus and McIntyre (with the jovial Bellaver remaining in the cast). That’s when the classic episodes of Naked City were produced… with a host of famous guest stars, ranging from silent movie actors like Conrad Nagel to newcomers Martin Sheen, Peter Fonda and Christopher Walken.

Naked City is so good and so unlike any other American crime drama or police procedural it’s hard to believe it was produced in the United States, because the series definitely has a European look and sensibility. It’s sort of operatic neorealism – Vittorio De Sica let loose with a camera in NYC. Not unlike De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D., Naked City reflects a very existentialist and humanistic philosophy that occasionally moves the viewer to tears. The series regulars often become supporting players in the weekly dramas. The writing by Stirling Silliphant and others makes the more celebrated Paddy Chayevsky sound like an overbearing pontificator. Silliphant really humanizes his characters… whether cops, criminals or ordinary New Yorkers.

A young Dustin Hoffman in Naked City

A young Dustin Hoffman makes an appearance in Naked City

Sadly, the image quality of Naked City: The Complete Series varies considerably. Many of the earlier episodes are in bad shape – dark and speckled. Framed in 1.33:1, most of the transfers look pretty good. Generally, image and sound quality are more than acceptable, although dialogue isn’t always clear. Despite the quality issues, this box set is the only way to see the entire landmark television series – unfamiliar to contemporary audiences because the series rarely ran in syndication after its ABC airing.

Watching 138 episodes of Naked City on 29 DVDs is quite a time commitment, but well worth the effort. The show (filmed in glorious black and white) is interesting from a historical standpoint: we see the magnificent old Penn Station (tragically demolished in 1963) and the Singer Building (the 47-story office tower – built in 1908 and torn down in 1968). In the early sixties, the New York City skyline was never more beautiful and balanced, before the intrusion of such massive structures as the Bank of America Tower and Citigroup Center. The Columbus Circle of the late fifties is almost unrecognizable, with the monument at the centre the only constant. We also see pre-gentrified Manhattan neighborhoods that looked quite grungy back in the day, especially in the winter.

Gene Hackman in Naked City

Gene Hackman in Naked City

Naked City attracted top-flight guest stars, including: Luther Adler, Eddie Albert, Edward Asner, Martin Balsam, Barbara Barrie, Richard Basehart, Diahann Carroll, Lee J. Cobb, Richard Conte, Hume Cronyn, Robert Culp, Sandy Dennis, Bruce Dern, Bradford Dillman, Keir Dullea, Dan Duryea, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Nina Foch, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Kim Hunter, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Shirley Knight, Diane Ladd, Piper Laurie, Joanne Linville, Robert Loggia, Jack Lord, Al Lewis, Walter Matthau, Sylvia Miles, Vic Morrow, Robert Morse, Myron McCormick, Roddy McDowall, Burgess Meredith, Lois Nettleton, Carroll O’Connor, Susan Oliver, Suzanne Pleshette, Claude Rains, Robert Redford, Ruth Roman, Mickey Rooney, Carol Rossen, Telly Savalas, George C. Scott, George Segal, William Shatner, Sylvia Sidney, Maureen Stapleton, Karen Steele, Akim Tamiroff, Rip Torn, Jon Voight, Eli Wallach, David Wayne, Tuesday Weld, Keenan Wynn and Dick York.

George Maharis guest stars in a first-season episode that served as a pilot for Route 66. (Naked City and Route 66 were created and produced by Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard.)

The 1960 episode entitled “Down the Long Night” will be of particular interest to Diabolique readers; it was scripted by dark fantasy writer Charles Beaumont and the tale is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone episode “Perchance to Dream“, also written by Beaumont and with an amusement park setting. Imagine: an episode of Naked City that verges on horror! Guest starring in “Down the Long Night” are Leslie Nielsen, Nehemiah Persoff and Geraldine Brooks.

The only extra features are 12 minutes of commercials from 50+ years ago, including one in which Peter Lorre endorses a flexible watchband.

About Harvey Chartrand

Harvey F. Chartrand is a features writer at Ottawa Life Magazine (www.ottawalife.com). Harvey’s stories have appeared in numerous publications including Cinema Retro, Filmfax,Shock Cinema, Rue Morgue, Scarlet: The Film Magazine, National Post, Jerusalem Postand The Globe and Mail. Harvey is a movie fanatic and has interviewed several film celebrities. To contact Harvey, e-mail him at: [email protected]

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