Death of media magnat Amos Kyne is causing power struggle between his executives. In the meantime New York women become prey of a serial killer. Reporter Edward Mobley is in that circumstances faced with almost impossible missions: to catch the killer, to prevent the media empire from falling into the wrong hands and to save his romantic relationship from break-up.
Dana Andrews ... Edward Mobley
Rhonda Fleming ... Dorothy Kyne
George Sanders ... Mark Loving, KNS Chief
Howard Duff ... Lt. Burt Kaufman
Thomas Mitchell ... John Day Griffith (Sentinel managing editor)
Vincent Price ... Walter Kyne
Sally Forrest ... Nancy Liggett
John Drew Barrymore ... Robert Manners (as John Barrymore Jr.)
James Craig ... \'Honest\' Harry Kritzer
Ida Lupino ... Mildred Donner
Robert Warwick ... Amos Kyne
Mae Marsh ... Mrs. Manners
Ralph Peters ... Gerald Meade (Sentinel crime reporter)
Sandy White ... Judith Felton
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.
When media mogul Amos Kyne dies his playboy son takes over the seat of power but, knowing he is unable to manage such an organisation he decides to create an executive directorship just below his role to do all the real work and day to day managing of the company. Meanwhile a serial killer is stalking the city, strangling young women in their homes. With this story becoming big news Kyne Jr decides how he will appoint his new Ex Director – it will be the first of the potential employees to bring him the scoop on the Lipstick Killer, as he is known.
With an intriguing plot and an impressive ensemble approach with the casting, this film offered much and, although it could have been darker in tone, it still offered a lot of potential to be a slick urban mystery. The story is basically a mystery where a group of mercenary journalists compete for a top job by trying to catch a serial killer. Typical for this sort of thing, the journalists are all hard-talking and hard-drinking while still being likable rogues to a man; the driven edge they have offers much but the film doesn\'t follow through – for example I was shocked by the idea of Mobley offering his own fiancé up as bait but disliked the way she treated it as a bit of a laugh and didn\'t respond convincingly. Likewise the story contains adultery and betrayal between the characters and while it hints at much it doesn\'t throw up as many ethical shadows as I felt it should be doing. Regardless of this the story is still good; the mystery aspect is not that interesting and, despite the fact people were being killed I didn\'t ever feel like it was a race against time or anything. What the story does better is to develop the various characters and draw the drama from their relationships and tensions.
For this reason the ensemble cast does pretty well and features a host of big names. Andrews is the lead of the group and he has a good presence although I would have liked him to be a little bit less likable and be as ethically questionable as his methods suggest he was. Sanders is not that great, mainly because his material is not as strong; conversely Craig is better because his material is more interesting. Price is good in his role and Mitchell provides good support and fits the newspaper editor stereotype. Fleming and Lupino are much better than Forrest, who is a bit weak when viewed alongside such actors. Barrymore, Warwick and others do well in smaller roles but the guy who played the Lipstick Killer was a bit of a pain as he seemed to relentlessly ham it up and skulk around all to obviously.
Overall though the film stands up and is an enjoyable ensemble drama with a bit of mystery tension. The actual race to find the killer is less of a draw than the tensions between the journalists and their partners and it never got as exciting as it should have done but it is still interesting. Viewers who like their noirs to be a bit murkier and darker may be disappointed to find that the script hints at darkness but also keeps everyone likable – a failing I must admit bothered me because I could see the potential but other than this it is still worth watching.
Fritz Lang, who brought us so many marvelous films in the \'30s and \'40s - Metropolis, M, Fury, Woman in the Window, Scarlett Street etc., by the 1950s was in a decline. With the problems that the studios were having coping with television and the breakup of their monopoly of theaters, no one really wanted to deal with the difficult Lang. Therefore, he was relegated to B movies, some of which, like \"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt\" are quite impressive.
1956\'s \"While the City Sleeps\" is a little less impressive but still highly entertaining. It stars some actors who had either seen better days in film or hadn\'t moved up the ladder much - Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Sally Forrest, James Craig, and John Drew Barrymore. It\'s a \'40s cast, and the film, set in New York City, has a \'40s feel to it.
Andrews plays a Pulitzer-prize winning writer, Ed Mobley, an Ed Murrow type, who does a television commentary. With the death of the big boss of the media conglomerate - which includes a newspaper, television news, and a wire service - his waste of a son, Walter Kyne, (Price) takes over the company. He sets up a competition among the three heavy-hitters in the company - the newspaper editor John Day Griffith (Mitchell), the head of the wire service, Mark Loving (Sanders) and a news photographer Harry Kritzer(Craig). The first one who solves the \"Lipstick Killer\" murders wins the job as director of the company.
The black and white cinematography gives \"While the City Sleeps\" a great atmosphere, and some of the characters are a real hoot, including Lupino, who plays Mildred, a columnist for the paper, and Rhonda Fleming as Kyne\'s gorgeous wife who is having an affair with one of the contenders, Kritzer. Everyone drinks like a fish at a nearby bar, Mobley gets into trouble with his fiancé Nancy (Forrest) for kissing Mildred in a cab, and Kyne\'s wife is discovered in flagrante delicto due to a bizarre set of circumstances. Meanwhile, Griffith and Loving fight to be first and can\'t figure out why Kritzer doesn\'t seem to be trying very hard. Well, he is, just not at the paper. Nancy is set up (with her permission) as a target for the Lipstick Killer, who uses his delivery job to unlock apartment doors by pushing in the button, and then returns and kills his single female victim.
Though a little slow at times, \"While the City Sleeps\" is more of a newspaper story than a mystery, so there isn\'t a lot of suspense or excitement to be had. It\'s just good, old-fashioned entertainment. Recommended for a very good cast and decent story.