When he angers Caligula (Jay Robinson) by buying Demetrius (Victor Mature), a slave he had wanted, military officer Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is exiled to Jerusalem. There, he encounters talk of a new 'messiah' named Jesus. When Pilate condemns this well-meaning man, Marcellus is placed in charge of the crucifixion. After the deed, he wins Christ's robe in a dice game. A strange event involving the garment shakes Marcellus to his core, causing Demetrius to steal it and disappear. Returning to Rome, Marcellus is charged by Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger) to retrieve the shroud and destroy it. Starting his search in Galilee, our hero begins to learn the teachings of Jesus. After coming in contact with former disciple Peter (Michael Rennie), Marcellus repents and returns to Rome to spread the word and win back his former flame Diana (Jean Simmons). Naturally, he too is condemned.
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And although we readily identify The Naked City as film noir today, in reality the focus of the film is slightly skewed by comparison with other classics of the genre. Here it is the police, not a P.I. or American everyman-turned-vigilante, who brings the usual assortment of noir perps to justice, and the action we follow is that of the police procedure that draws the net ever closer. The picture opens with the murder of a young woman, a blonde knockout who models dresses for a living and who was lured to the city's bright lights and flashy lifestyle like a moth to the flame, and before a single day has passed, seasoned lieutenant Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and his rookie, war vet partner (Don Taylor) have administered the third degree to a seedy cross-section of New York society. Some of these interested parties, you'll be surprised to learn, are not completely forthcoming; from here, we follow Muldoon, whose job is to sort the lies from the truth, and partner Halloran, who puts in a lot of legwork and follows a hunch or two of his own. The film ends in a justly famed chase sequence through the maze of the Lower East Side (this legendary immigrant neighborhood, now the home of boutiques and cafs, is captured on film as it never has been before or since) and ends in a vertiginous sequence atop a tower of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Continue reading: The Naked City Review