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Friday, February 8, 2013


Like so many TV series of its time, the gritty cop drama "Naked City" (ABC-TV, 1958-63) now stands as a showcase not only for established stars working in television, but for the up-and-coming actors trying to break into movies (or at least bigger success on the small screen).  Spotting all these familiar faces is what makes Image Entertainment's 5-disc DVD set NAKED CITY: 20 STAR-FILLED EPISODES especially interesting to watch.

Sometimes upbeat, sometimes noirish and bleak, "Naked City" is a semi-documentary-style drama (filmed in black and white on real New York locations) that thoughtfully explores human foibles and social issues of the day between occasional bursts of violence such as a blazing shootout or tire-screeching car chase.  Not all of the stories are that interesting--in fact, they sometimes tend to drag or veer toward the maudlin--but at its best, the show can be scintillating and highly involving entertainment.

The first hour-long episode, "Sweet Prince of Delancy Street" (1961), features Robert Morse (HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING) in a manic performance as Richie, a schlub trying to keep his dad (James Dunn) from being arrested for vandalizing the factory he was just fired from and killing a security guard.  In addition to Jan "Madge the Manicurist" Miner and Arny Freeman of THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE, a young Dustin Hoffman also appears in a smaller but ultimately pivotal role as Richie's friend Lester.

This episode (later ranked #93 on TV Guide’s list of "100 Greatest Episodes of All Time") introduces us to series regulars Paul Burke ("Twelve O'Clock High") as idealistic young police detective Adam Flint, Horace McMahon (ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS) as his world-weary boss Lt. Mike Parker, Harry Bellaver as his easygoing older partner Det. Frank Arcaro, and Nancy Malone as his faithful fiance' Libby Kingston.  The show's main emphasis, however, is usually on the guest characters and their problems, occasionally giving "Naked City" the feel of an anthology show. 

A brief glance at the episode titles such as "Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out With the Bow and Arrow" (with Eddie Albert) reveals how pretentious the series tends to be at times, as does a sample of the opening narration: "In the naked city, a man can search 10,000 side streets all 22,000 days of his life...and never come face-to-face with the stranger within himself." 

It's clearly intended as a showcase for writers and actors to allow free rein to their creativity and either shamelessly give in to excess or--in the case of old pros such as Albert, David Wayne ("The Multiplicity of Herbert Konish"), Claude Rains ("To Walk in Silence"), and Sylvia Sidney ("A Hole in the City")--do exceedingly impressive work.  

Some of the other future stars making early appearances include a wildly overacting William Shatner ("Portrait of a Painter"), Peter Fonda and Martin Sheen ("The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos"), Robert Duvall ("The One Marked Hot Gives Cold", "Hole in the City"), an emotional Dennis Hopper ("Shoes For Vinnie Winford"), Robert Redford ("Tombstone for a Derelict"), Jon Voight ("Alive and Still a Second Lieutenant"), "Jimmy" Caan and Bruce Dern ("Bullets Cost Too Much"), a willowy young Diane Ladd ("Line of Duty"), and Suzanne Pleshette ("The Pedigree Sheet").  Co-starring with Eddie Albert in "Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out With the Bow and Arrow" is a shockingly young-looking "Ronnie" (Christopher) Walken.

Already-familiar faces (at the time) from movies and television include Theodore Bikel, Barry Morse, Jo Van Fleet, Edward Andrews, Telly Savalas, Leslie Nielsen, Nehemiah Persoff, Paul Hartman, Jean Stapleton, Dick York, Johnny Seven, Betty Field, Peter Falk, Myron McCormick, Jack Klugman, Jan Sterling, Richard Conte, Nancy Marchand, Murray Hamilton, Roger C. Carmel, Jack Warden, and Carroll O'Connor.  Two 1958 episodes, "Lady Bug, Lady Bug" and "Line of Duty", take us back to the show's initial half-hour format with original stars John McIntyre and James Franciscus. 

Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the occasional lowly bit player who would later go on to bigger and better things, such as Richard Castellano (THE GODFATHER), Sorrell Booke ("The Dukes of Hazzard"), Joe Silver ("You Light Up My Life"), Sylvia Miles (MIDNIGHT COWBOY), and Doris Roberts ("Everybody Loves Raymond").

The 5-disc DVD set from Image Entertainment is in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital mono sound.  No subtitles or extras. 

Spotting the then-and-future stars in an older show like this is kind of like birdwatching, only (to me) a lot more fun.  It helps if the show itself is worth watching, which the sometimes gritty, sometimes overly weepy "Naked City" manages to be more often than not.  And as a wallow in old-school classic TV, NAKED CITY: 20 STAR-FILLED EPISODES is pure, unadulterated nostalgia.

Buy it at

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