This oddly titled Naked City entry, On The Battlefront Every Minute Is Important, is above average for the series, and as usual has more than a couple of story lines going on, which makes it at times confusing early on. It comes together satisfactorily as the plot threads slowly but surely start to comes together, and it ends in tragedy; but then it began that way so this came as no surprise.
The opening, somewhat cryptic narration doesn't wholly suit the drama that follows, and the title is confusing, but no matter. This was often the case with this unique series, which is fascinating as much for what it shows, old New York, clearly in decline, before it became Fun City under Mayor John Lindsay, and just before the horrifying Kitty Genovese incident in which a young woman's cries for help were not heeded by her neighbors when she was brutally murdered outside her home in Queens. The feeling of a great metropolis in decline is palpable in Naked City generally, and in this episode in particular.
What made this one work for me was the relationship that developed between a wealthy ad man, well played by David Janssen, and Paul Burke's plainclothes cop, as Janssen attempts to lure the policeman into working for him, perhaps in recognition of the hard-working cop as a kindred spirit,--or maybe he has other motives. After all, his office has been burgled, and a man murdered in a struggle the police can't make much sense of, as very little money was taken and, even more strangely, several ashtrays were stolen. What were the robbers really after? They were an odd bunch, even for criminals, as we see in the opening scenes. Questions abound, unsettling things happen, such as Janssen finding that someone buried an ax in his office door. One can't but wonder whether someone has it in the ad man; and if so, why.
One of the things that makes this series unique, aside from its location shooting, unusual for its time, is that it often posed big questions, offered what appeared like large mysteries early in an episode, only to have the questions raised in the course of the story answered in simpler terms than one might have expected, as invariably character trumps plot in the Naked City, and in the end we learn something about human nature, with issues not so much resolved as humanized, embodied in the people the stories are about, not as something apart from them but embedded in who they are. The endings are nearly all sad, so it's no wonder the series ran only a few seasons.
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The police come calling after a break-in at the offices of the Carl Ashland ad agency. Great entrance by David Janssen's character, Carl Ashland. He's in a design meeting with three of his agency staff when his secretary walks in to tell him that the police are waiting for him in his office. Clearly, he's sharper than everyone else in the room. Love the way he says, "What do you want, Lee?"
Back in Ashland's office, Detective Flint looks around and sees that the office has been ransacked, and only $100, a cigarette lighter, and some metal ashtrays are missing. This doesn't add up for Det. Flint. Usually a burglar after money would be in a hurry to get in and out and wouldn't make the huge mess like he did. When they look in a supply room, they find it has also been torn apart, and see the dead body of a known safe cracker. Later that evening, Det. Flint goes back to the office to investigate further. While there, Ashland invites him out to dinner. Ashland has observed Det. Flint in action and likes the way he thinks. He offers him a job at the agency and the action develops from there.
For me, the Flint/Ashland storyline was much more interesting than the psychotic killer/burglary story. David Janssen had star presence and was a joy to watch.
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Another reviewer said this episode made no sense. I happened to watch this with two of my house mates, one of whom is gay and after he chuckled-as we watched, we finally demanded to know what he saw reacting to.
So, according to him, it is like the closeted/unsure gay man character on MAD MEN. Buy this or not, here is the intriguing sub-meaning he proposed to:
Janssen,as Ashland (burnt ashes/ash trays) is gay or bisexual despite the sex-pot decoy secretary he has. The more in the closet, the more of a sex bomb.
Someone has been murdered after raging through the personal effects of his office looking for--something! You see, the ash trays that are taken represent rudely-treated closeted employee. In a meeting the boss has a disguised love-snit with an employee who is crushed out like a finished butt when his idea is put down: put it all up front (the logo of a product). But Jansen says although other people may see it there, he wants the label where only the driver can see it, to remind him what he bought. Translated, if he is the sexual controller of a man, he does not want the guy to be out of the closet, but instead known only to him or others he has "smoked and then crushed" in. (The STEEL trays are strong men and can take it.)
My friend was not sure what the fatal disease stood for, unless it was simply an elaborate con for seducing the kind of "straight" man the tough closeted gay prefers. (The script is careful to tell the audience that "Ashalnd has never married.") He is trying to tease out the detective on the robbery in the office. He is too suave to make a direct sexual overture, so he invites him to swanky restaurant and while there proposes (ahem) that the detective "join him" at a huge salary, and that Ashland will "teach" the detective all he needs to know about advertising (a possible metaphor for how to let different sorts of closeted men intuit that you are available and/or interested). Teach him how to navigate that new subworld.
Does the detective know this? Hard to say, says hyper-analytic friend watching with us. The deep hidden coding of all this was typical for the age, and still survives among many closet,married bisexual me, we were informed.
Indeed, after being alerted to this possible slant, we noticed there was a weird reference to some man being "found dead in a paint closet." Obvious enough, even if the paint part is unclear. In fact, we were told that the back room where a man was found murdered, was a place of assignation for closeted men in the firm. "Why was he carrying ouch a heavy tools bag" asked one officer dully while on the scene. Friend just chortled at that. Guess the guy with the larger gift of nature "killed" the other man with his overwhelming manhood. We did not really get that.
"Yeah, killed of his past self-conception of himself as a man, and put out in a figurative ashtray." Follow? And there was a lot of the stuff too, including the weird ending. Friend was actually not sure but theorized that the older man in his pajamas was a gay guy old been around awhile and in some post-sex pillow-talk (the pajamas, remember) had suggested that if he dove into Ashland's agency he would find bunch of good lead for gay sex. So the receiver of the tip made the acquaintance of all the male employees there (Ashland's ash trays), gives them oral sex, and tries to find out if the big boss is also gay. But the ash trays are loyal and pass him around like a toy without ever acting on the boss's secret: this is how they "made of fool of" him, and what drove him into his mad, raging break-in of the boss's office.
Gay friend says he was not sure about all of it---and that the Ashland character could have been represented in both the head of the agency AND the guy raging(Ashland admits he rage sometimes) at the end who felt humiliated. Either way, according to this theory the rage is about a loss of face, or a de-closeting to someone undesirable, creating a cross-fury of psychological (shown as actual murders since this was a crime show) killings.
The detective was the antidote for Ashland's ''disease.'' The decent, open-faced cop would not ''kill'' him with more bitchy underworld poisoning. And our co-watching friend hesitated here, not wanting, he said, to perpetuate self-loathing stereotypes, but perhaps it was more common fifty years ago. Ashland/Janssen just wanted to bond with a regular guy, someone not spoiled ("dead") from too many tricks (all senses) and too many disappointments in life. But---the cop says he felt "alive" that last day doing his job as an officer, and will stay what he is (straight and with a family), and not join Ashland's lonely world---where we see him all alone staring blankly out at a lonesome city, filled with glittering lights in the darkness.
So not everyone was willing to be "naked" even in NYC of 1962. Is that really the story? Who knows, but there were certainly enough indications to make it possible for us. And the writer was good enough to write it in such a way that it simply played as a good story (except perhaps the twisty odd ending) for audiences unwilling or unaware of hidden meanings. Being a fan of MAD MEN, we had to say it sort of fit that culture, but we argued about it for an hour!
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***SPOILERS*** Hard to take as well as unintentionally funny "Naked City" episode that when you think about it makes no sense at all! We have this carpet chewing lunatic a Mister Korsica, Kurt Kaszner, who seems to have an ashtray fetish posing as a doctor on a midnight house call at the almost empty Park Lexington Building in downtown Manhattan. Insisting that he's there to treat someone the security guard someone called El Gaba, Sid Raymond,finally lets the big blow hard in only to get a shiv, knife, in his side by the wild eyed and what looks like committable Korsica thus killing him. If things aren't bad enough already Korsica not finding what he was looking for in that he seemed to forget that there's no 13th floor in the building ending up a floor higher then he expected. It's then that Korsica gets into an altercation with his fellow robber Sid Kitica, Leonordo Cimino, over both killing the security guard and missing his stop or floor and murders him as well!
It's later when the cops are called in to check out the crime scene up pops the CEO of the office that was ransacked by that nut-case Korsica Earl Ashland, David Jassen, who takes it all the robbery and ransacking of his office in stride as if he doesn't have a care in the world. That's until Sid Kitka's body was discovered and the homicide squad lead by the kind hearted feel good and humanitarian policeman Det. Adam Flint, Paul Burke, was called in. I for one was expecting to see more of that runaway maniac Korsica but the guy just disappeared into the woodwork until the final few minutes of the "Naked City" episode. But when he finally showed up he didn't let me and those of us watching down! By then completely out of his skull in being made a fool of, which he had only himself to blame, he cases and guns down some Innocent schmo whom he randomly singled out for his mindless vengeance before the police lead by Det. Flint finally put an end to his insanity!
***SPOILERS*** We also have a nice but out of the blue sub-plot here as well that's as ridicules as the one with the crazed and criminally deranged Korsica. This has to do with what turns out to be the just having six months to live, he's supposedly dying of leukemia, Earl Ashland. He want's the handsome and sensitive Det. Flint, whom he seems to have taken a shine to, to take over his job as CEO of the advertising firm that he's head of. Det. Flint not wanting to give up his job as a policeman as well as the star of the top TV series "Naked City" respectfully declined his offer. Sure the money is good, as a CEO, but there's no adventure in it as well as not getting to meet any interesting people! Like that nut Korsica as well as the dying of leukemia Earl Ashland.
P.S As it turned out there was indeed bad times ahead for Earl Ashland but not form a fatal and incurable disease he's suffering from. Ashland or David Janssen was to in fact be cast some six months later, in September 1963, in the part of the falsely accused of murder Dr. Richard Kimble in the TV series "The Fugitive" that instead of him peacefully dying in bed had him running for his life, from the police & FBI, for the next four years!
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