Naked City graced the airwaves of America from its debut in September of 1958 until it was cancelled in June of 1963. Every week for those five years, the series would place hardboiled Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke) on the streets of New York City, fighting crime and solving mysteries. Under the command of his boss, Lt. Mike Parker (Horace McMahon), Burke often dealt with a seedier element than cop shows had before on network television, which made Naked City a grittier, dirtier, and all around tougher show than anything that had been seen before.
In addition to pushing the envelope content-wise, the series also had a cast of great writers working on it and it wasn't long before the public and the critics started taking notice. Once the show had proven itself, it was able to line up some serious star power to appear on the show and throughout the run of the series there are some interesting appearances by such notables as Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Robert Loggia, Mickey Rooney, and even Jack Warden.
Mixed in amongst the hard edged moments of police work were subplots that ran the gamut from the humorous to the romantic and all walks in between. The show was very realistic not only in its portrayal of detective work but in its portrayal of day to day life. Firmly grounded in reality, the series also made use of some very stylish direction and more often than not the episodes played off more like shot crime noir films than your average TV cop show.
Image Entertainment has released Naked City on DVD in various forms before this five disc collection containing twenty episodes. First there were a bunch of single disc releases and then these were followed later by three different boxed set collections. What we get now is simply a repackaging of some of the better known episodes to feature some of the better known guest stars who appeared during the series' run. If you've got previous collections, you probably don't need this. If you don't, however, this is a great selection and it makes a pretty great case for why exactly this show remains so highly regarded and well remembered more than a half a century after it ceased production.
Here's what you'll find spread across the five discs in this set, some brief synopsis' that hopefully don't go too far into spoiler territory:
Sweet Prince Of Delancy Street: An aging factory worker named Peter Wilkins (James Dunn) is fired from his job and comes home drunk, at which point in front of his wife and son (Robert Morse), he threatens to rob the company where he used to work. When a robbery happens and a guard winds up dead, the cops take both father and son into custody but their stories don't add up. A young Dustin Hoffman stars in this episode, widely considered (and rightfully so) one of the best in the series.
Portrait Of A Painter: William Shatner plays a disturbed young man trying to make a living in Greenwich Village as painter, but his battle with mental illness is far from over. When he blacks out one night and wakes up the next morning to find his wife murdered, he wants to help the police investigating the crime but has no memory of what happened. As the cops set about trying to piece together the puzzle of her death, they can't rule out the theory that he may have killed her and blocked it from his memory.
The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos: Dr. Anna Chaloupka is a kind doctor in a bad neighborhood who does everything that she can to help those in need. One night she's visited by Joey Selken (Peter Fonda), a young man injured in an attempted robbery. Though she debates treating him, he is the son of a close friend so when she lets him in, she tries to talk him into turning himself in, much to the dismay of his friend, Philip (Martin Sheen).
The One Marked Hot Gives Cold: An ex-convict who grew up in an orphanage wants to find his long lost father. He steals what few records there are left in hopes that he'll find some clues and winds up befriending a twelve year old girl. Though their relationship is innocent, this soon causes problems for people suspicious of his true intentions, particularly once the police start snooping around and keeping tabs on him. Robert Duvall stars in this episode.
Down The Long Night: Norman Garry (Leslie Nielson) is the distraught owner of a printing plant that burned down. He's being harassed by his angry neighbor, Max Evar, who blames him for the death of his wife and child, both killed in the fire. When things get bad, Norman has no choice but to go the police and it's then found out that Max has just been released from a mental hospital. Geraldine Brooks also appears in this episode.
To Walk In Silence: A well to do Wall Street stockbroker is a key witness to a shooting but out of fear for what it would do to his job and his social status, he refuses to testify or to help the police with their investigation in any way. When the other witnesses wind up dead and his daughter is kidnapped, he must choose between maintaining his status or helping his only child. Claude Rains and Telly Savalas star in this excellent episode.
Shoes For Vinnie Winford: A wealthy young man named Vinnie Winford loses his father which makes him the new man in charge of his late dad's business, much to the dismay of the board of directors who don't take him in the least bit seriously. What they don't know is that he's secretly running a burlesque emporium and doing so very effectively, maybe a little too effectively. When one of the dancers in his employ goes missing, the cops come looking for him. Dennis Hopper plays Vinnie Winford and Sylvia Miles one of the dancers.
Tombstone For A Derelict: A gang of four young men decide to make some political points about the state of the world and get some serious attention by stabbing homeless men and marking the scene of the crime with swastikas in hopes that the clues will lead the cops right to them. Robert Redford shows up in this episode as one of the men in question, which is interesting to see, as he and his compatriots actually dress as Nazis in this rather unsettling episode.
Alive And Still A Second Lieutenant: A high ranking executive named Jason Colwell is used to getting what he wants when he wants it so when someone takes his parking space, it's not completely out of character for him to get into a fight with the offending party over such a minor dispute. Unfortunately for both men, Colwell accidently kills the other man. Instead of turning himself in he tries to hide out from the police but winds up having to deal with the mental anguish caused by his actions. Robert Sterling and Jon Voight star in this episode.
A Hole In The City: An armed robbery near Yankee Stadium in The Bronx sends the cops out in full force but soon the culprits disappear. A cop named Busti has to go door to door in order to search the area for information and clues while the gang's leader forces his way into his aunt's house to hide out. While he's hiding out, she continues to bring up painful memories of his past. Robert Duvall plays the gang leader and Ed Asner plays Busti.
Bullets Cost Too Much: A dive bar is held up by a gang of serial robbers while Detective Flint is enjoying a drink but because one of the hoods holds a gun to a patrons head, he can do nothing to stop it. A drunk at the bar snaps when a hood kicks his dog and is shot and in the ensuing investigation, some blame Flint for not preventing the crime, including the dead man's widow. Dick York and Jean Stapleton star and a young but recognizable James Caan plays one of the robbers.
Prime Of Life: Lieutenant Parker sends Detective Adam Flint upstate from New York City to Sing Sing prison where he is to be a witness to the execution of a murderer that some time ago he helped to bring to justice. Of course, once he gets there, he has to reconcile with his feelings about all of this. Gene Hackman appears in this episode that brings into question the merits of the death penalty.
Robin Hood And Clarence Darrow They Went Out With The Bow And Arrow: A liquor store who is aware of a string of robberies occurring in the area attempts to win back the respect of his angry son by trying to get the gang of hoods to rob his store. Things get complicated when his wish comes true and his business partner is killed in the ensuing scuffle. Eddie Albert and Christopher Walken play the father and son respectively and Silvia Miles appears in this episode too.
Lady Bug Lady Bug: A wealthy man has to decide if he wants to play hardball or not when a local extortionist, who has recently killed a young girl, decides to threaten his son's life if he won't pay him the money he wants. Peter Falk plays the extortionist in this episode, and he does it very well at that.
One Of The Most Important Men In The Whole World: A mobster who has recently lost his wife is being challenged in court by his sister-in-law for custody of his son. As the kid isn't doing well in school, it doesn't look good for him until he comes up with a plan to convince the boy's teacher to bump him up to A student status. How's he going to do this? By offering him a beautiful girl in his employ, that's how! Richard Conte, Anne Seymour and Doris Roberts are some of the recognizable cast members that appear in this episode.
Line Of Duty: At the beginning of this rather intense episode, Detective Halloran deals with the trauma caused when he has to shoot and kill a first suspect at a robbery. Though it was a legitimate case of self defense, he can't help but put himself through hell over it, particularly once the victim's mother accuses him of murdering her son. Diane Ladd has a small role here as does William Forester.
Specter Of The Rose Street Gang: A trio of high ranking New York City business men are being blackmailed by their former friend of theirs from their younger days for their involvement in the death of a teenage boy killed a quarter century ago is unearthed by a construction crew. The prime clue in the case is a monogrammed lighter found with the body. Jack Warden and Carroll O'Connor both star in this episode.
The Multiplicity Of Herbert Konish: David Wayne plays Herbert Konish, a seemingly meek and mild man who has, unbeknownst to those around him, a series of secret lives. Able to switch back and forth between them he alternates as a wealthy stockbroker, a humble farmer, a beat poet, and a philanthropic head of a large charity. When it becomes obvious that he's been up to no good, this duplicitous lifestyle makes it difficult for the investigating officers to pinpoint exactly who he is and what he's done. Jean Stapleton also appears in this episode.
The Pedigree Sheet: A car wreck claims the lives of two men, one killed in the accident and one dead from a bullet wound. A third man occupant, a young woman named Nora Condon (Suzanne Pleshette), survives and is brought in for questioning by the police. Parker quickly realizes she can make or break the case and help prove that the one man was murdered and that jury tampering has taken place. Al Lewis from The Munsters appears in this episode.
The Tragic Success Of Alfred Tiloff: A down on his luck loser named Alfy Tiloff is conned into participating in a kidnapping scheme by his wife, who threatens to leave him if he won't go along. Her plan is to kidnap an innocent young girl from a poor family and convince a gullible millionaire to pay her ransom. It seems at first that it's going to go off without a hitch until a neighbor, paying very close attention to all of this, goes to the cops. Jan Sterling and Jack Klugman star in this episode.
While some episodes are better than others, there's really not a stinker in the bunch here. Each one of these stories is well shot making excellent use of the late fifties/early sixties New York City locations to help hammer home the sometimes dangerous vibe of the big city. The show's cinematography is frequently noirish and always attractive and the amount of talent assembled as far as the casting choices are concerned is very impressive. Pacing is consistently as good as the acting and this is one of those rare TV series that has not been harmed at all by the years that have passed since it first aired.
Each of the twenty episodes on the set is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, which is how the episodes were broadcast and the format that they were composed and photographed for. While there is some mild print damage evident in a few spots throughout the episodes, for the most part the image is consistently clean and clear and free of heavy dirt and debris. The contrast levels are properly balanced and the blacks are usually strong and deep despite some occasionally murkiness here and there. Some mild shimmering is present throughout but it's not overly distracting and there aren't any issues to report in regards to serious mpeg compression artifacts. These transfers won't floor you, but they look okay.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks that are included in this set are fine. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and while it sounds as flat and basic as an older mono mix from the late fifties/early sixties TV show would sound, that's just the way it is. Levels are well balanced, any hiss or distortion that creeps in to the mix is minimal and the score and effects are audible and clear. Nothing fancy here, but this gets the job done well enough.
There are no extras at all, just a static menu on each disc offering episode selection.
If you've got the previous releases from Image then there's really no point to this repackaging of previously released material. However, if you're new to Naked City and just want to test out the show before putting out for the three volumes, this isn't a bad way to do just that - or if you're a casual fan just interested in collecting some of the better known episodes, this fits that bill too. The presentation here is okay, not amazing but okay, but the series? It holds up really well and there's a lot of great material included across the five discs that make up this set. For that reason, despite the fact that all of this stuff has been released previously, Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.