While the City Sleeps (1956)

While the City Sleeps (1956)
While the City Sleeps (1956)

Run time: 100 min
Rating: 7.1
Genres: Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Casey Robinson, Charles Einstein
Stars: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders
Storyline
This bizarre newspaper drama has an intriguing plot.  There’s a sex maniac on the loose, terrorizing the city and eluding the police.  The plum job of city editor will go to whomever captures the fiend!  On your mark, get set… with Ida right at the head of the race.
Details:
Release Date: 30 May 1956 (USA)

4 responses to “While the City Sleeps (1956)”

  1. rgkeenan says:

    One of my favorites by Fritz Lang, "While the City Sleeps" is also one of the neglected masterworks of 1950s American cinema, a decade as you may know full of insight and social criticism (e.g. "Ace in the Hole", "Bigger Than Life", "Phenix City Story", etc.) It was Lang’s penultimate American film and one of his personal favorites.

    The film, a dazzling allegory on media manipulation and modernity may not work on single viewing and perhaps that’s why it’s so underrated, despite a superb cast: Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, Mae Marsh, Rhonda Fleming and John Drew Barrymore(the son of the great John Barrymore).

    In discussing the picture, Lang often compared it to his German masterpiece, "M"(1931) and the comparison is not inapt. In "M", Peter Lorre’s Hans Beckert terrorizes the whole city and creates a paranoia among its citizens. In "While the City Sleeps", Manners’s crimes mainly function as a gimmick for the press to sell papers while the normal life in the city seems to continue. Rather than simply conveying the necessary information in "M", the media here in "While the City Sleeps" (consisting of an interplay between television and newspaper) is much more ironic and cynical: they use Manners and his victims to terrify the public to sell more papers, something that is equally true today as it was back in 1956.

    Not to be missed.

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    This is my favorite film of all time on the absorbing subject of how to and how not to run a newspaper, after "The Fountainhead". The very clever main plot concerns what happens at the Kyne News Service when its founder/boss dies suddenly; his corrupt heir soon decides to stage a contest among the heads of the Service’s three divisions–to keep them under his thumb while he pretends to be boss–while Ed Mobley, the boss’s former heir-apparent refuses to ask to participate. The machinations of the three aspirants are then played out against Mobley’s pursuit of a rapist known as ‘The Lipstick Killer" and Mobley’s pursuit of his skittish fiancée who has her own doubts about him and the situation. The authors of the piece in the first half of the film seem to my standards do have done better than anyone else ever has in presenting the point of view of those who define, cover and are affected by ‘the news’–news of the day or more lasting sorts. This classy but never glossy B/W film was very well directed by veteran Fritz Lang, with screenplay credited to Charles Einstein and Casey Robinson. The sets by Joel Mills are very good, lighting is excellent, and the costumes by Norma and music (by Herschel Burke-Gilbert)are seamlessly good. But the fascinating element in the film for me is the very good acting Lang gets from a mixed cast of young and veteran performers. Fine actor Robert Warwick’s demise as Amos Kyne leaves his son Vincent Price, wonderfully unprincipled, in charge of his empire. As the three division heads, the viewer has the fun of watching George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell and James Craig, with the ladies who complicate their lives being hard-boiled Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, at her best in every sense, and lovely young Sally Forrest. Everyone is very good indeed. Mobley is played very well by Dana Andrews. John Drew Barrymore is the killer, in his first major role, and his long-suffering mother is played by Mae Marsh. The climax of the film comes when the killer stalks Mobley’s fiancée, and he has to wonder even if he succeeds in setting her up in a successful trap ( rigged for the man who’s already stalking her thanks to his having taunted him on the airwaves) whether she will still want him or not. The climax is active and satisfying; and the denouement and ending even better. This is a first-rate and well-remembered film that just missed being even greater. I never miss it; and my advice to anyone is to adopt the same attitude.

  3. rgkeenan says:

    While the City Sleeps has an interesting premise. A newspaper is taken over by a rather dissolute millionaire who sets three executives scrambling for a big promotion. They all have different angles to get the job, but the main focus is on the attempt to show off their skills by getting the best news on a wanted serial killer.

    This is a promising setup for a hard-edged examination of the cynicism of the newspaper industry, but it lacks that hard, cynical edge. The movie doesn't seem to be all that appalled by the actions of its executives nor does one get a real sense of hard men doing anything to get ahead. In other words, this is no Sweet Smell of Success.

    The movie also has some pretty dumb plot elements, most notably reporter Andrews absurd plan to catch the killer. Admittedly this is pretty typical of movies of the kind, but that doesn't make it any less stupid. The dialogue is artificial and often a little ridiculous.

    On the plus side, the movie has an entertaining adult sensibility. Even though the Hayes code means little is said explicitly, there is a remarkable amount of implied sex in this movie, and the sleaziness of most of its characters is the most interesting aspect of the film. But overall, this is just sort of watchable.

  4. IMDBReviewer says:

    Tugboats scudding down a dark river nudge us urgently into `New York City – Tonight.’ Fritz Lang’s While The City Sleep opens like an urban legend: A drugstore delivery man (John Barrymore, Jr.) invades an apartment on a quiet street of brownstones and murders a young woman. Scrawled on the wall in lipstick is a cryptic, chilling order – `Ask mother.’

    But Lang swiftly shifts registers; the young psycho-killer is but leaven for his loaf. His prime focus proves to be how the search to catch the culprit plays out in the executive suite of a huge media syndicate. Its founder, Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), rules his empire from a hospital bed in his office; his last order, before his ticker tocks its last, is to label the anonymous Barrymore `the lipstick killer’ and play him big. (`Kyne’ seems deliberately to evoke another press magnate, Charles Foster Kane, even down to the maps showing his coast-to-coast reach and the encircled `K’ logo that could have been ripped off the gates of Xanadu.)

    Kyne’s power, however, devolves to his pompous, petty son (Vincent Price). Knowing they hold him in contempt, he sets the heads of his various divisions to finding the killer, with a new directorship as the prize. Among the contenders are Thomas Mitchell, editor of the syndicate’s flagship newspaper, the Sentinel; George Sanders, chief of its wire service; and James Craig, who runs its photo operation. Above the fray is Pulitzer-Prize winning TV commentator Dana Andrews, whose only ambition is to be left alone to pursue his drinking and his girl (Sally Forrest). Nor are any women eligible for the prize, though Price’s trophy wife (Rhonda Fleming) pulls strings on behalf of her lover Craig, while mink-wrapped sob sister Ida Lupino (`Champagne cocktail. Brandy float.’) initiates like maneuvers for her squeeze, Sanders.

    Indifference to the prize, however, doesn’t dampen Andrews’ journalistic ardor. Not only does he use his broadcast to bait the `momma’s boy’ (who watches in his jammies as his mother, Mae Marsh, dotingly dithers around), he sets up Forrest as bait. For all his menace, Barrymore’s not the brightest lad in the boroughs, and thus can be excused for mixing up his targets….

    With its high-powered (and hammy) cast, its blend of psychopathology and cutthroat corporate culture, While The City Sleeps would end up standing as Lang’s last American film but one (the far-fetched Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, also starring Andrews). His following so many plot strands results in a thinning of atmosphere, some fragmentation of focus – there’s a buoyancy of tone which was decidedly absent from his other films of the ‘50s, like Clash By Night or The Big Heat or Human Desire. While The City Sleeps tempers hard-core noir with more mainstream motives. It’s a slick, entertaining, and at times even scary movie.

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