Monday, September 9, 2013

The Naked City. A Noir TV gem.

          With the switch from analog to digital Television, Stations wound up with sub channels.For example the NBC affiliate here in Columbus, Ohio is channel 4.After the switch there is channel 4.1, the primary that broadcasts the NBC lineup. There is also channel 4.2. The PBS affiliate WOSU has three channels of programming. With these new outlets, programming had to be found.
For these sub channels new networks sprang up. ME TV, Antennae TV and THIS are the three here in Central Ohio. ME TV and Antennae TV show sitcoms and dramas from the 50's through the 80's. Most cable systems stick these up in the high channels on the box, if they even carry them.
I may be mature but I don't remember a lot of 50's TV. Superman and the Mickey Mouse Club, of course. Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo.Most of the so-called "Golden Age Of Television" aired after I went to bed.
Some were early enough or I got to see them somehow are etched in my memory. "The Honeymooners". "The Twilight Zone". "Perry Mason". "Peter Gunn" with that amazing Mancini theme and Noir sensibilities."The Phil Silvers Show".And of course "I Love Lucy". So if I can really remember only a few well, what better than these?
Since I don't have cable I have rediscovered shows I vaguely remember or those my family didn't watch.
"Perry Mason" in the early seasons had an intriguing pulp feel. I have found the vaunted "Untouchables" OK. "Combat" with the late Vic Morrow had it's moments. For some reason WWII France looks a lot like Southern California. "Wanted Dead Or Alive" is a gritty, formulaic little western with a very young Steve McQueen.
A show I had heard of but had never seen airs in ME TV's Sunday late night Noir block. "The Naked City". The show's ending tag line was "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them."
This police drama was unusual for being filmed on location instead of a studio back lot. It was also filmed in New York City which became a dominate character, setting the mood and feel.
Looking at these old shows I am struck by the quality of writing and acting. Those are traits that are sorely lacking on a lot of today's offerings. I would much rather watch Jackie Gleason in his prime than say, "Two Broke Girls" which is inexplicably a hit.
In "The Naked City" they used a semi anthology format that highlighted the stories of the guest stars, rather than the regulars. The writing was taut. The black and white cinematography had a gritty feel and was superb by late 50', early 60's standards. Though I owned some of the cars seen there I had forgotten just how big they were. The era of big Detroit Steel. You could impale yourself on the fin of a Sixty Chevy.
The show premiered in 1958 starring a young James Franciscus. He was replaced in 1960 by Paul Burke who played a sensitive, cerebral cop, an anomaly in that era.
Since it was filmed in NYC they used New York actors, many who later become stars. For a lot of them this was their first appearance in a TV drama. The talent exposed by this series is amazing and reads a lot like a who's who in American film.
A partial list.
Robert Duvall. Rip Torn. Telly Savalas (with hair). Jack Klugman. Peter Falk. Gene Hackman. Vic Morrow. Ed Asner. Cecily Tyson. James Caan,. James Coburn. Alan Alda. Robert Redford. Peter Fonda. Bruce Dern. Dennis Hopper. Tuesday Weld. Suzanne Pleshette. Jean Stapleton. Rod Steiger. Dustin Hoffman. William Shatner. Christopher Walken.  Simply amazing. It is wonderful to see the early work by these people.
"The Naked City" was respected enough to attract established actors also.
Again, a list.
George C. Scott. Lee J. Cobb. Walter Matthau. Kim Hunter. Eli Wallach. Jack Warden. Claude Rains. Mickey Rooney. Burgess Meredith. Keenan Wynn. In a rare film appearance Sanford Meisner the acting teacher was cast
Without strong scripts many of these established actors would not have come to New York to work in a TV show. I have found this show a delightful diversion. It is always a treat to see actors I respect in their early work. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of whom they will become.
As a Noir fan I am drawn in by the gritty look which is perfect for a police drama set in the Big Apple.
After watching "The Naked City" and other gems this may have truly been a golden era. Too bad many of the live drama anthologies didn't survive to be seen today. I'll enjoy what we have. Take a chance and look the old B & W shows over. You may have a bit of fun.

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