Monday, April 21, 2008

TCM's Jules Dassin Tribute

Last night, TCM honored the late director Jules Dassin, who died on March 31 at the age of 96, by showing two of his movies. Fortunately, both of them are available on DVD, so if you missed TCM's tribute you can judge for yourself.

The Naked City. In this 1948 movie, Barry Fitzgerald plays Irish-American (there's a surprise!) police detective Dan Muldoon, who has to solve the murder of model Jean Dexter, killed in her Manhattan apartment. He's ably assisted by young detecive Jimmy Halloran, played by future director Don Taylor, who is treated quite well by the camera. The story is told in a docudrama fashion, and involves a series of suspects, some of whom may be more likely to have been involved than others, but all of whom end up being connected as the detectives meticulously gather their clues: one of Dexter's fellow models; her doctor, a friend who may or may not be more than just a friend; and even a harmonica-playing wrestler. Of note is that The Naked City was filmed on location in New York City, one of the first feature movies to do so after the movie industry left for Hollywood. This of course lends an air of realism to the proceedings that only makes the movie better. (Not that the studios didn't try hard with their earlier movies set in New York City: MGM made The Clock entirely at the studio and the backlot, but went to great pains to re-create Penn Station.)

Topkapi. This 1964 heist movie is one of the earlier examples of the all-star caper flick (although the original Ocean's Eleven had preceded it). Topkapi is the name of a palace turned museum in İstanbul, Turkey, where one of the famous exhibits is an emerald- and diamond-encrusted dagger. Melina Mercouri plays a woman who wants to steal it, and enlists the help of Maximilian Schell. Together, they recruit a team of people without previous criminal records (so that the police won't catch on) to help them, notably gadget guru Robert Morley, and acrobat Gilles Ségal. Unfortunately, they also have to bring Peter Ustinov along for the ride, when his unwitting role in the affair is foiled at the Greek-Turkish border. The scenes of actually trying to steal the dagger are fun enough, but I personally found Mercouri irritating and was glad for the actual heist itself, as she doesn't play much of a part in that extended sequence. On the bright side, Ustinov won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his effort.

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