CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (director: John H. Auer; screenwriter: Steve Fisher; cinematographer: John L. Russell; editor: Fred Allen; music: R. Dale Butts; cast: Gig Young (Johnny Kelly), Mala Powers (Sally Connors “Angel Face”), Edward Arnold (Penrod Biddel), William Talman (Hayes Stewart), Chill Wills (Sgt. Joe, the Voice of Chicago), Marie Windsor (Lydia Biddel), Paula Raymond (Kathy Kelly), Otto Hulett (Sgt. John ‘Pop’ Kelly Sr.), Wally Cassell (Gregg Warren, “the Mechanical Man”), James Andelin (Lt. Parker), Ron Hagerthy (Stubby Kelly); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John H. Auer; Republic; 1953)
“A whimsical film noir, probably the only such animal.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A whimsical film noir, probably the only such animal, told in a semidocumentary style that is set one traumatic night in the life of a young troubled Chicago policeman named Johnny Kelly (Gig Young). It’s hardly more than an adequate attempt to make the Windy City seem special like The Naked City did for the Big Apple. The film’s gimmick is to employ a ghostly car patrol partner of Johnny’s who is presented as the schmaltzy “Voice of Chicago,” Sergeant Joe (Chill Wills), who acts in a sentimental way to steer Johnny on the straight and narrow path. Director John H. Auer plays with the theme of starting over again and how easy it is to become dehumanized and lost in a big city. The screenplay, heavy on police procedures, is by Steve Fisher.
Johnny works the graveyard shift, but before leaving his humble apartment he must listen to his mother-in-law nag him. He leaves as his wife Kathy comes home from her higher paying job, as the two have grown apart after three years or so of married life. Before Johnny checks in for roll call, he visits his stripper/dancer girlfriend Sally Connors (Mala Powers) backstage at the Silver Frolics. They planned to run away together, with Johnny quitting his job. But Johnny gets cold feet about leaving his wife, though he still wants to quit the force. Sally tells lover boy that if he turns her down then she’ll accept the marriage offer of Gregg Warren (Wally Cassell), who has an act as a “mechanical man” in the nightclub’s display window.
At the station house Johnny chats with his dad, Sgt. John ‘Pop’ Kelly Sr. (Otto Hulett), a veteran detective in the same precinct, without mentioning his problems (he only took the job to please his father). Johnny then goes to the luxury pad of wealthy, aging, crooked criminal defense lawyer Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold), who tempts Johnny with a big payoff to stop a burglary of his office safe for an important document and instead of arresting the perp, Hayes Stewart (William Talman), he wants the cop to bring him across the border to Indiana where he’s wanted by the police. The lawyer says a year in jail will do the double-crosser good, and it will prevent him from blabbing about the document. Hayes is a former magician who still plays with his pet rabbit but has now transformed himself into a genuine thug. He is seeking to blackmail Penrod once he gets his hands on the document that can put the lawyer away for 99 years. The magician has also won over the lawyer’s upstart wife, the uncaring Lydia Biddel (Marie Windsor), who is planning to run away in style with the new love of her life after shaking down hubby for 100 thousand clams.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.
It all leads to a few murders, a great shot of tears of joy rolling down the gilded face of the mechanical man in the middle of his act that allows spectators to realize he’s human, and the fleeing killer running across the elevated tracks being pursued by the policeman son whose father he killed.
Even though inventive, the police drama can’t hide how average a thriller it was and how sketchy was its plot.
REVIEWED ON 10/24/2004 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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