WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS
(director: Fritz Lang; screenwriters: from the story “The Bloody Spur” by Charles Einstein/Casey Robinson; cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo; editor: Gene Fowler, Jr.; music: Herschel Burke Gilbert; cast: Dana Andrews (Edward Mobley), Ida Lupino (Mildred Donner), Rhonda Fleming (Dorothy Kyne), Sally Forrest (Nancy Liggett), George Sanders (Mark Loving), Thomas Mitchell (John Day Griffith), Vincent Price (Walter Kyne, Jr.), Howard Duff (Lt. Burt Kaufman), James Craig (Harry Kritzer), John Drew Barrymore Jr. (Robert Manners, The Killer), Mae Marsh (Mrs. Manners), Robert Warwick (Amos Kyne), Ralph Peters (Meade), Ed Hinton (O’Leary), Vladimir Sokoloff (George Palsky, Janitor), Sandy White (Judith Fenton); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bert E. Friedlob; RKO; 1956)
“More a social commentary than a straight crime drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Fritz Lang (“M”) directs his most under-appreciated great film, more a social commentary than a straight crime drama. Writer Casey Robinson bases the film noir on the novel “The Bloody Spur” by Charles Einstein.
Media mogul Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) dies at the onset of a big crime story about a sex killer dubbed the “lipstick killer,” after a lipstick message “Ask mother” is found scrawled on the apartment wall of the victim Judith Fenton. Amos ordered his newspaper heads to run full-blast with that story. Amos’s business empire includes a major newspaper (the New York Sentinel), a television station, and a wire news service. It’s inherited by his sole heir, his ne’er do well son Walter (Vincent Price), who immediately sets out to prove that he’s not his father’s idiot son. Walter creates a new top executive position to act as his right-hand man and run the entire organization, and offers the competition to be among the city editor John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), the head of the wire service Mark Loving (George Sanders), and the photo editor Harry Kritzer (James Craig). The conniving Loving and the workaholic Griffith greedily go after the job and battle to solve the headline murder case, feeling that the one who solves that case will get the job. Meanwhile Harry is having an affair with Walter’s wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), and hopes to get the job through Dorothy’s influence. Pulitizer prize-winning reporter and commentator on the television show Ed Mobley (Dana Andrews) is reluctant to get involved, but nevertheless gets involved and signs on to help his close-friend Griffith. Ed’s childhood friend Lt. Burt Kaufman (Howard Duff) is heading the murder case investigation and gives his friend access he doesn’t give to any other reporter. When there’s another killing of a school teacher, Ed volunteers to use his fiancée Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest) as bait for the killer. Nancy, who is Loving’s secretary, is placed in great danger, but the killer (John Drew Barrymore Jr.) is captured in an exciting subway tunnel chase and confesses to four murders. Griffith wins the job, while Ed and Nancy patch up their spat and marry.
Somehow the killer, who is mentally disturbed and can’t help himself, is treated in a more sympathetic light than any of the ambitious newspaper people. Even the story’s supposedly most noble person, Dana Andrews, uses his girlfriend to advance his ambitions. The heart of the story is seen through the glass-walled newspaper offices and all the underhanded things that normally take place there are revealed, as Lang reserves his harshest judgment on the blindly ambitious newspaper people who could so easily throw away their self-respect for power, vanity, and money.
REVIEWED ON 3/2/2005 GRADE: A