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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They'd sell out their own mothers!, 28 Nov 2011
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This review is from: While the City Sleeps (1956) [DVD] (DVD)
While the City Sleeps is directed by Fritz Lang and adapted to screenplay by Casey Robinson from the novel The Bloody Spur written by Charles Einstein. It stars Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Sally Forrest, John Barrymore Jr, James Craig and Ida Lupino. Music is by Herschel Burke Gilbert and cinematography by Ernest Laszlo.

When media magnate Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) dies, the running of his empire passes to his aloof son Walter (Price). Expressing his plans to the chief members of staff, Walter explains that an executive position is available for the best applicant. He dangles a carrot in the form of the so called "Lipstick Killer" who is terrorising the city, which ever of the men helps to snare the villain, so shall they be the one who nabs the coveted position.

Fritz Lang's second to last American feature is one of his most cynical pieces of work. Film consists of two plot threads deftly coiled together to create an ironic whole. As the brutal "Lipstick Killer" goes about his dastardly business, the men of the media stoop to amoral lengths chasing the prize offered up by Walter Kyne. There's barely a decent person to be found, even the women who form part of the guys lives are dubious, one is having an affair, another is only too happy to seduce one of the men to feather her own nest. While the only innocent member of the group, Sally Forest's Nancy Liggett, her reward for being a loving innocent is to be offered up as bait for the "Lipstick Killer," and this by the guy we were thinking was our hero of the piece! Lang is clearly enjoying putting the killers "lust" on the same playing field as the media employees "greed." It's not for nothing that the director correlates for two separate scenes, that of the killer's mode of entry with that also used by Andrews' Edward Mobley as he boozily plays up to his girlfriend.

Oh you men, you're all polygamists.

Casey Robinson's screenplay thrives on adult speak as it sets about unwrapping the characters, keeping the story complex enough to make us take in every detail. There's always something telling going on, and with a rather impressive group of actors assembled for the film, it never sags in pace or become dull as a story. There's also plenty of suggestion thrown in as the narrative pings with themes of power, politics and sex, played out either intriguingly in all glass walled office space, or in the confines of the bar down on the street. Although it's mostly talky stuff, Lang manages to wring out plenty of tension from a number of dialogue exchanges, while the murders themselves carry with them the requisite nasty bite. What is disappointing is that the big chase finale thru the train subway system is rather tepid, which without Laszlo's photography would be instantly forgettable. And the absence of a telling score is also felt, which is annoying since the booming intro music over the credits promised so much.

The stand out performance in the cast is from Lupino, who revels in playing Mildred Donner as a vamp who knows what she wants and plans to get it. Oozing wily sex appeal as she gently gnaws her glass after getting the go ahead for seducing duties, or raising temperatures as she suggestively takes an offered cigarette with her mouth. Andrews is fine, though he struggles to play drunk with any conviction and Sanders is on oily auto-pilot. Price has foppish down comfortably, while Mitchell is his usual watchable self. Fleming looks great, and gets the bikini moment to show off her curves; although her role could have done with some expansion, and Forrest eases into a virginal role, all in white she be the white rose in a bed of thorns. Interesting is Barrymore Junior as the killer (no spoiler since Lang shows us it's him from the off), he does a nice line in twitchy and sweaty for the "Mama's Boy Killer," putting some memorable insanity pathos into a scene as he is taunted on the television by Mobley.

Far from perfect but always of high interest, While the City Sleeps (great title) in terms of characterisations is a Lang essential. 7.5/10
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