The TV Show:
"There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them."
Naked City, based on the 1948 film noir staple and running on ABC in 1958-1963, is one vintage detective show that benefited greatly from being filmed on location throughout New York City. As with the cinematic effort it's based on, the setting is a much of a character in TV's Naked City as the central group of NYPD detectives who spend each episode uncovering those "eight million stories." There was another benefit to the series being an East coast-based production, as well. Having a New York-based police series shot right there in the neighborhoods where the stories took place was a nice enough advantage over their sterile, studio-bound counterparts in L.A. Naked City's producers, however, also made liberal use New York's fertile pool of acting talent to play the various hoodlums, also-rans, shady ladies, crime victims and Joe Schmoes who flit in and out of these tales.
This is where Image Entertainment's 5-DVD collection Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes comes in. The episodes in this collection contain well-known actors in guest roles, smaller parts played by the soon-to-be-famous, or a combination of both. This allows for a good cross-section of stories from all four of the show's seasons, although there are only two episodes from Naked City's earlier incarnation as a half-hour procedural. Beefed up to an hour and recast with new actors and characters, the show evolved into its most memorable form, led by tight-lipped actor Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint. Solid support was lent by Harry Bellaver as Detective Frank Arcaro and Horace McMahon as Lieutenant Mike Parker. The series was something of a foreshadowing of the Law & Order franchise with its rich use of location footage and scripts that were influenced by the criminal activities of the day. The mutual respect between Flint and his co-workers played a big part in the series' success, along with the mature relationship depicted between Flint and his girlfriend Libby, played by Nancy Malone.
Since my DVD Talk colleague Ian Jane already did a good job reviewing this set, I'm going to use the rest of this review to outline the contents of each disc, along with credits and screen grabs. The new-to-DVD episodes on this set are highlighted in orange.
Sweet Prince of Delancey Street
Robert Morse stars in this episode as a disturbed young man who is implicated in the murder of a security guard at the factory where his father had been callously laid off. A young Dustin Hoffman also appears as Morse's weaselly friend.
Portrait of a Painter
This beatnik-influenced episode stars William Shatner as a mentally unstable artist who awakens in his locked studio with his wife's bloody corpse nearby. Seeking asylum with his psychiatrist (Theodore Bikel), Shatner is sure of his own guilt, but the NYPD detectives believe there's something else afoot.
The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos
Jo Van Fleet and Peter Fonda contribute good performances to this story of a doctor (Van Fleet) who becomes concerned when the young man she's been caring for like a son (Fonda) becomes attracted to the criminal life. A young Martin Sheen plays Fonda's hoodlum buddy.
The One Marked Hot Gives Cold
Seeking information on his father, a volatile adoptee named Frank (Robert Duvall) steals information from the orphanage where he was dropped off at the age of six. After the Frank's father is located, Frank arouses the concern of Flint and the NYPD over his relationship with a 12 year-old girl.
Down the Long Night
Lelie Nielsen guest stars in this episode as a man named Norm who approaches the NYPD to help with his harassing (and mentally unbalanced) former neighbor, Max (Nehemiah Persoff).
To Walk In Silence
Beloved cinema icon Claude Rains headlines this nail-biter as a Wall Street investment manager who, out of fear of damaging his reputation, refuses to aid the NYPD investigation of a shooting he witnessed. Deborah Walley and Telly Savalas also appear in this episode.
Shoes for Vinnie Winford
This installment revolves around Dennis Hopper's character Vinnie Winford, a corporate tycoon/mama's boy who secretly runs a burlesque house on the side. When a dancer goes missing, Flint and company's investigation brings to light Vinnie's abusive treatment of the women.
Tombstone for a Derelict
Four disturbed young men go on a killing rampage, striking homeless men in seemingly random fashion. The NYPD investigation reveals it as the work of a neo-Nazi group who commit the murders as a political statement. A young Robert Redford plays one of the hoodlums.
Alive and Still a Second Lieutenant
The detectives investigate a white-collar man found dead over a parking space altercation. Robert Sterling plays the guilty businessman eluding the cops, but the main reason for this episode's inclusion here is a young John Voight, who appears in one scene.
A Hole in the City
After machine gun-toting hoodlums stage a rampage in and around Yankee Stadium, they take refuge in the apartment of the group's nutty ringleader. When the police arrive, it explodes into a tense hostage situation. Great vehicle for Sylvia Sidney as the aunt and a young Robert Duvall as criminal Lewis Nunda. Pre-Mary Tyler Moore Show Ed Asner also appears in this episode.
Bullets Cost Too Much
In this eventful episode, the police force's competency is called into question when the off-duty Burke must deal with the aftermath of being present at an armed robbery at a cocktail lounge. TV legend Dick York guests as a doctor treating one of the hold-up men. Jean Stapleton, Bruce Dern and James Caan (credited as "Jimmy") also appear.
Prime of Life
Detective Flint is sent to the local prison to witness the execution of a murderer that he helped put away. Flashbacks tell the story of how the killer got to death row. A young Gene Hackman appears as one of the other execution witnesses.
Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out with the Bow and Arrow
In this tense hour, Eddie Albert plays a liquor store owner who becomes fed up with being the victim and arms himself after witnessing his friend getting gunned down in his own shop. A very young Christopher Walken (credited as Ronnie Walken) appears in a few scenes as Albert's son.
Lady Bug, Lady Bug
In one of the earlier episodes (before Naked City was retooled, recast and expanded to an hour-long format), a business tycoon (Leon B. Stevens) becomes the victim of an extortionist's scheme involving an innocent young girl and the man's apathetic son. A pre-stardom Peter Falk plays the extortionist.
One of the Most Important Men in the Whole World
Richard Conte headlines this flashback-heavy episode as a mobster who pressures a schoolteacher to give his troubled son straight As in his classes. A widower, Conte is using any means necessary to convince child protective services that he's a fit father, a better guardian than the boy's supportive aunt (Anne Seymour). I'm not sure if Conte was a big enough actor to merit being on this set, but the episode contains a bit from Doris Roberts as well.
Line of Duty
Another early half-hour episode, this story revolves around series regular Detective Jimmy Halloran (James Franciscus) as he harbors lingering guilt over the shooting death of a fleeing criminal. A young Diane Ladd appears as one of the victim's grieving relatives.
Spectre of the Rose Street Gang
When the long-decomposed skeleton of a teenage boy is discovered at a construction site, the now middle-aged men involved with the boy's disappearance make arrangements to elude the police's investigation. One participant is not so willing to hide, however. Jack Warden and Carroll O'Connor are among the guest stars.
The Multiplicity of Herbert Konish
Detective Flint and team investigate a mild-mannered gentleman (David Wayne) who has created elaborate alternate personalities for himself to escape the mundanity of his daily life. Jean Stapleton and Nancy Marchand also appear in this episode.
The Pedigree Sheet
An investigation of a car accident that left two dead - one by a bullet wound - leads Flint and team to a beautiful young woman (Suzanne Pleshette) who is unwilling to cooperate with the detectives. Al "Grandpa" Lewis also appears in this compelling episode.
The Tragic Success of Alfred Tiloff
Jack Klugman and Jan Sterling contribute fine performances to this episode, as a pair of petty criminals who target a millionaire for ransom money after they kidnap a young girl.
While it isn't as consistent as it could be, many of the episodes on Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes were taken from sharp-looking original film prints. The image occasionally show signs of dust and wear, but they generally look as nice as when they were first broadcast. With each disc holding four episodes (150-200 minutes running time total), the quality mastering job makes the series' gritty photography look good.
The music track on these mono soundtracks sometimes gets a bit shrill, but on the average the dialogue is clear and pleasant. There are no alternate soundtracks or subtitle options on these episodes.
Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes adds to the frustration that fans of the gritty '60s detective series must be feeling, since complete season sets are still not forthcoming - and 11 of these episodes have already been released on disc. On its own terms, however, it's a nice package that plays up this proto-Law & Order police procedural's strengths. Recommended.