Blu-ray Review: Naked Alibi | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, September 21st, 2020  

Naked Alibi

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Nov 21, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Fritz Lang’s classic Columbia Pictures noir The Big Heat was by no means a huge hit. Well reviewed upon release and having grown in stature in the decades since for it’s terrific sense of style, excellent performances and boundary-pushing violence, the film didn’t even crack the top 50 highest grossing films for 1953. It’s odd then that Universal International would release such a flagrant, B-grade ripoff of The Big Heat the following year in the form of Naked Alibi.

The Big Heat features Glenn Ford as a loose cannon cop avenging the death of his wife and getting mixed up with a femme fatale played by Gloria Grahame. Naked Alibi features Sterling Hayden as a loose cannon cop avenging the death of his partner and getting mixed up with a femme fatale played by Gloria Grahame. The Big Heat takes a hard look at the darkness lurking beneath the placid surface of the suburban 50s family man. Ford’s violent protagonist is borderline nihilistic in his quest for revenge and his performance taps into that emptiness in a powerful way. Although he would go on to play one of the most iconic corrupt cops in all of cinema - the effortlessly cruel Captain McCluskey in The Godfather - Sterling Hayden never brings much depth or sympathy to his character of Joe Conroy. His cavalier thuggishness made him well suited to playing underdog criminals in classics like The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, but casting him as a brutal cop on a righteous quest for revenge feels a bit like punching down. The film questions it briefly at the beginning, having Conroy get fired for witness harassment and brutality, but then walks it back hard by having his frightened, bullied, family man of a target - played by Gene Barry - escape to Mexico where it’s revealed that he’s actually a career criminal psychopath leading a duel life.

The mechanics and motivations of Barry’s character never make much sense, nor does the the film’s fictionalized version of Tijuana - here lamely named Border City - which looks like a studio lot and features no one who even appears Mexican, let alone any actual Mexican actors. It’s here that we’re introduced to Gloria Grahame’s Marianna, a lounge singer who gets caught between Barry and Hayden’s characters. Grahame was no stranger to playing women trapped in the thrall of violent, abusive men. Some of her finest performances were in service of this archetype, specifically in the Nicholas Ray/Humphrey Bogart classic In a Lonely Place and of course, The Big Heat. Grahame had a sourness to her sweetness, her high voice adept at delivering sardonic kiss-offs. She’s possibly the only actress in the history of cinema who could make a lisp sound sexy.  As Debbie in The Big Heat, she’s sillier and more animated than most femme fatales, but no less sharp for it. Her bubbly exuberance is shot through with a sense of real tragedy that allows the audience to love her all the more for knowing she’s doomed. As Marianna in Naked Alibi, she seems actively bored to be playing a less interested retread of that character. That her character’s final scene actively invokes her final scene in The Big Heat down to the framing and dialogue, only makes the comparison feel that much more blatant and her arc in Naked Alibi that much more unearned. This problem is compounded all the more by the total lack of chemistry between Hayden and Grahame.

Naked Alibi is really only recommendable for its casual treatment of violence, which is fairly jarring for a film made in 1954. Nothing approaches the brutality of the coffee pot scene from The Big Heat, but several vicious beatings, a stabbing and a jump scare car bomb all feel like salacious attempts to push the Hays Code as far as possible. The grubby meanness of the film is admirable in its own way, but the effect is hampered by the limp direction and overall cheapness of the films visual style.



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