Today, we look at how misplaced nostalgia proved deadly for an armed robber in a classic episode of The Naked City.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
In 1945, Arthur “Weegee” Fellig released a book of photographs taken in New York City of a number of interesting topics (some of them quite dark, like the scene of a murder). The book was called The Naked City, and it became a bit of a sensation. It inspired a hit film by the same name (Weegee was hired to make the film look more realistic).
The concept was then used for a TV series in 1958, the theory being to nominally follow the cops at a station, but really just detail the various “tales” of the Naked City. The series was initially a half hour long, but was canceled after a season. The sponsor of the show, though, believed in the concept, and The Naked City was brought back in 1960 as an hour-long drama, and it ran for a few years, drawing great acclaim for its noir storytelling.
Midway through this new format, (the cops were now played by Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint, Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker and Harry Bellaver as Sgt.Frank Arcaro), we got “A Hole in the City,” a story starring a young Robert Duvall as Lewis Nunda, a criminal who had just masterminded an armored car robbery, getting away with $65,000, leaving three men dead in the process.
Nunda knew the area of the Bronx well, and after murdering a garage attendant, they switched cars, and seemed to be on their way to freedom. However, the police chase had brought the crooks near a building where his aunt lived. Nunda convinced the other two that it made sense to lay low at his aunt’s place. This, of course, was a terrible idea, but his two accomplices were pretty much morons, so they accepted Nunda’s plan as logical.
His Aunt Florence (Sylvia Sidney) knows all about his criminal record, but she really doesn’t care. However, the problem is that Nunda cares VERY MUCH about his aunt, and the happenstance of being in her neighborhood (I’ve seen some people claim that Nunda always planned to hide at her place, but I don’t buy that, as it doesn’t make any sense as a plan, as the cops are going door to door in the area. You can’t “lay low” after robbing $65,000 from an armored truck, murdering three people and getting into a shootout with the cops. Stopping was never going to work out, and I don’t believe it was ever Nunda’s initial plan) throws him completely out of whack.
You know that thing how when you’re a kid, you only have a distorted version of events, because you’re not privy to everything that’s going on “behind the scenes,” as it were? That’s Nunda, only he took it to an insane degree, and he explains how his life of crime began as an attempt to buy his aunt a piano after his beloved uncle died and his aunt became destitute. When he realized that the $28 he stole wasn’t nearly enough, he spent the money trying to win more at the boardwalk. That delusional endeavor sent him on his road to crime and now that he was at his aunt’s apartment, he wants to give her some money.
Of course, though, eventually the cops figure out that he has an aunt who lives nearby, and they come to her apartment and a shootout ensues, and a cop is killed (a young Ed Asner plays the murdered cop). They take hostages, and kill one of them and throw him down the stairwell as a sign of their intent. One of the hostages is a young Audra Lindley.
Anyhow, Nunda’s sister (who he also blames for his awful childhood, seeing her as the golden child) arrives to try to talk her brother into surrendering, and when Nunda is going on a rant, his aunt finally destroys his image of her life. The uncle was a miserly jerk who was cruel to his aunt, Nunda’s father foolishly put them on a pedestal while she was miserable. She’s happier with his her husband dead (he died while arguing with her over fifteen cents). The diamonds that Nunda remembers her having went to the grave with the uncle, as noted in his will. The piano Nunda remembers her playing, his uncle only allowed his aunt to play it one hour a day because he was afraid she would wear the piano out.
Realizing his whole life was built on a lie, Nunda decides to do one good thing, and kills his compatriots and then runs on the roof with his machine gun, getting gunned down. As he dies, he shouts about how the world is all nothing.
It’s super dark, but really well executed, with exquisite cinematography and great performances from Duvall and Sidney, who was always a great guest star in the 1960s.
Okay, if I’m going to have 357 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!