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DVD review: 'Naked City: The Complete Series'

Gene Triplett Modified: December 5, 2013 at 6:25 pm •  Published: December 4, 2013

“There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
That’s what the announcer used to intone at the end of each episode of “Naked City,” one of the best cop shows television had to offer in the early 1960s. In the hefty box set “‘Naked City’ — The Complete Series,” there are 138 stories about the detectives of the 65th Precinct — “in the heart of the theater district” — and the people they encounter, good, bad and somewhere in between, on the streets and in the buildings of the Big Apple, where it was all filmed.
Based a bit loosely on the Oscar-winning 1948 movie of the same name from director Jules Dassin (“Never On Sunday,” “Rififi”), also shot entirely on location in NYC, the series featured a long, glittering roster of stars and stars-to-be including Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Felicia Farr, Suzanne Pleshette, Peter Fonda and Christopher Walken.
The first season (1958-59) presented 30-minute episodes starring James Franciscus as Detective Jimmy Halloran and John McIntire as Irish-accented Lt. Dan Muldoon, the same characters played in the movie respectively by Don Taylor and Barry Fitzgerald.
While the first season was far better than the average TV cop fare of the day, distinguished by the grittiness of the original film, cast adjustments were needed. Franciscus was too clean-cut and nice-guy to be convincing as a tough New York plainclothesman, McIntire a little too kindly to be believed as the seasoned old pro. Producer Bert Leonard’s flowery narration — inspired by producer Mark Hellinger’s voice-over in the movie version — was also a distraction.
But when the show took an unprecedented one-season hiatus and came back as an hour-long offering, the cast had been fine-tuned to near perfection with mild-mannered Franciscus out and stern-face Paul Burke in as Detective Adam Flint and McInitire dropped for cranky, hounddog-faced Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker, Flint’s no-nonsense mentor. Of course, the best character throughout is the city itself, from its seamiest side streets to its swankiest penthouses.
The writing was (and still is) literate and tight, with most scripts written by the great Stirling Silliphant (“In the Heat of the Night,” the movie version), one of the busiest and most respected TV scriptwriters of the period. The lengthy titles were sometimes amusingly pretentious (“Make It Fifty Dollars and Add Love to Nona,” “Today the Man Who Kills Ants is Coming,” etc.), but the quality of the storytelling, acting, direction and photography was undeniable. The new improved version also featured a jazzy, mood-setting theme by Billy May and Milton Raskin, “Somewhere in the Night.”
The 29-DVD set from RLJ Entertainment also includes original commercials from the program (which ran, on and off, from fall 1958 through spring 1963) for Viceroy and Kool cigarettes, AC sparkplugs, Samsonite luggage, and Speidel watch bands, these last of which are hawked hilariously by Peter Lorre.
Here’s a great gift for enthusiasts of good — and sometimes great — golden-age TV.
– Gene Triplett