Dear The Naked City,
Cities often serve as the setting of murder mysteries. Their canyon-like streets and narrow alleyways create a visual suggestion of loneliness and isolation that fit well alongside narratives of death and transgressive actions. A lot of movies will exploit the trappings of urban living in order to expound upon these themes, to add a sheen of cultural context for the actions of the plot.
You, however, use the city as a means of deepening and expanding upon your own narrative structure. You use the city as a novelist uses third-person omniscient narration or faux news clippings. The glimpses that you give of the moments in the lives of the inhabitants of New York City serve to expand the narrative of a police department’s search for a killer. In fact, many of the characters that will eventually make up the main thread of your plot are at first introduced as just some of the random inhabitants of the city.
This technique adds a level of fidelity and authenticity to the proceedings, allowing for a more richly contextualized story. It never feels as though these actions are occurring in a vacuum, or that the world revolves entirely around this one case, this one investigation. Things are occurring in this city that have nothing to do with the murder investigation, and yet the investigation touches some of them in a small way.
Perhaps the strangest narrative technique, though is that of your narration. At the beginning of your run, we are introduced to the city in an ariel shot, as a voice tells us about the island and its character. This man then introduces himself as your producer, and even goes so far as to name your writers as well. In this way, the story that we are being told never reaches for artifice, and we can appreciate the actual mechanics and achievements of the story on its own narrative terms.
Of course all of this narrative and storytelling ingenuity and honesty would be worthless if not in the service of a story worth telling. To someone raised on the diet of crime shows and murder mysteries like myself, it would be difficult for any murder mystery to reach me on a level of novelty. Luckily, your tale depends more on truth and reality in terms of police work and city life than the twists and turns that a lesser, more showy mystery would attempt to indulge in. There is a subtle pleasure to be hand in watching the police pound pavement, to seeing the mechanics of real detective work rendered in a stylish and interesting way.
Your characters, such as they are, are not entirely fleshed out. They exist in this moment, not entirely free of contexts, but stripped of the expository flourishes that most movies have to accomodate in order to create a false sense of unified and self-contained narrative – a unification of both mystery and character arcs. You, on the other hand, allow only for the completion of the murder mystery, allowing character threads – the few that have been introduced – to remain. Your ending does not so much admit to this fact, as challenge the idea that it could have been any other way.
I had heard about you before, both consciously and unconsciously. I was aware of you from my personal interest in the genre of 1940s urban crime films, mainly of the noir variety. You had a reputation as being one of the best examples of early crime fiction in the movies. I can say beyond a shadow, after having seen you for myself, that every one of the superlatives awarded to you has been well-deserved.
With admiration and adoration,
Brian J. Roan