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on 3 June 2016
Here we have at the outset a nasty piece of work in the form of a young delivery guy (John Drew Barrynore) in his early twenties with a “thing” about attractive young women. When he commits murder he leaves clues so as to taunt the police; but the press, rather than the police, are at the centre of this farce.

The Kyne News Group, with several media outlets, loses its aged, sick founder, Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) early on in the film. The son, Walter Klyne (played by Vincent Price, inexperienced in the trade and a little gormless, on the surface at least) takes over and at once sets the cat among the pigeons when he challenges departmental heads to solve the so-called lipstick murders, those perpetrated by Barrynore.

Reporter, Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), a favourite with the recently deceased Amos Klyne, takes on an amorphous role as a sort of go-between within the trio of rivals Mark Loving (George Sanders), Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) and Harry Kritzer (James Craig). Kritzer), a pal of Walter Klyne’s (who is having it off with Klyne’s attractive young wife!) is tipped favourite to win the battle.

Mobbley appears on TV where he provokes the murderer into taking actions that he may not be able to resist, and which may lead to an arrest. Things do not go quite according to plan . . . !

The police hold the caretaker as suspect in the flats of one of the victims appearing early on in the film. Since this person knew of the drug store delivery man, who appeared on the scene at the time, one has to question why the police had not followed this up in their enquires?

A talented cast that includes Howard Duff as a police officer, with substantial contributions from Rhonda Fleming and Ida Lupino.

Howard Duff, in a good-guy role, contrasts with his appearance in “The Naked City” where he is anything but honest, to put it mildly!

This dichotomy within actor’s roles can be off-putting. Another good example is that of William Talman. In “The Racket”, along with Robert Mitcham, he plays an honest cop., whereas in “Armoured Car Robbery” he is Dave Purvis, an obnoxious gang leader.

Note: My print was acquired at a cost considerably lower than that advertised online here.

95 minutes of bat and ball.
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on 25 July 2017
This is more a newspaper story than a crime movie though there is some suspense. The cast list is a 1956 dream list - Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Rhonda Fleming and Howard Duff. Walter Kyne, (Vincent Price), as the owner of a news syndicate creates a competition for a prestigious position in his organisation. Three of his employees are tasked with finding the "Lipstick Killer". There are romantic liaisons and a killer on the loose. Dana Andrews is brilliant as usual, as are the rest of the cast. One of those classic little-known films that you really should see.
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on 6 June 2013
While the City Sleeps (1956) was Lang's penultimate American film. A close partner of the same year's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, the two urban thrillers made up a double deal struck between Lang and producer Bert E. Friedlob for RKO, a studio soon to be disbanded. The two pictures share similarities in story (both are investigations of a kind), main character (Dana Andrews playing predatory males) and general mise-en-scene. The look of While the City Sleeps in particular, is very bright, forward and with an almost complete absence of noir lighting which (for me) disqualifies it from being a film noir. In fact the very flat, simple framing of each image is a far cry from what is considered Lang's trademark chiaroscuro style and it might be tempting to say on first view that the film looks anonymous. Watch carefully however and we find this apparent simplicity deceiving.

While the City Sleeps sets itself up as a serial killer picture which puts it in the same area as Lang's most accomplished masterpiece, M (1931). However, the pre-credit sequence which introduces Robert Manners (John Drew Barrymore) closing in on one of his victims, proves to be a McGuffin. The film's real subject is a three-way power struggle for control of a media corporation. Media magnet Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) passes away, leaving his lazy son Walter (Vincent Price) to pass on all responsibility of running the organization to the winner of a contest he sets up to find 'The Lipstick Killer'. The three contestants are Mark Loving (George Sanders) the wire service chief, Harry Kritzer (James Craig) the pictures chief, and Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) editor in chief of The Sentinel, the Kyne Corporation's main newspaper. The plot is really about ruthless ambition and how all three use and abuse others to gain complete control. Loving uses gossip columnist Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino) as his eyes and ears while Kritzer beds Walter Kyne's wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming) in order to gain leverage over the husband. Griffith relies on his friend, Ed Mobley (Andrews) who plays a high profile reporter who now fronts the organization on TV. Mobley is Old Man Kyne's surrogate son who he had wanted to take over the corporation, and who has valuable connections in the police department which he will use to give Griffith an advantage over his rivals. So much, so plot-heavy perhaps and admittedly there isn't much here to distinguish it from other '50s newspaper exposes. In fact compare it with Ace in the Hole (1951) or Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and it even feels somewhat inferior.

However, the film is well worth watching for Lang's telling visuals. The use of TV is important here. The bright, flat stagey claustrophobia of so much of the film gives it a 'made-for-TV' look. It's no coincidence that the stars in the film all had their own TV shows at the time and Lang plays on this. Dana Andrews gives an especially TV drama-like 'flat' performance which rather suits the brief. Lang sees TV as a threat, something that we watch, but also something that controls us. Two sequences stick out. The first has Old Man Kyne seemingly killed off by the TV. Mobley is alone with the bed-ridden Kyne and is in a hurry because of a news broadcast he has to give. Interrupting Kyne by turning off the TV he says 'sorry to cut you off' to which words the old man dies. Kyne is played by Robert Warwick, an actor who had been in movies as long as Lang himself and its obvious here that Lang is bewailing the change from cinema to TV, the TV news-anchor 'cutting off' the old style newspaperman. The second sequence has Mobley addressing Manners actually through the TV. Despite the fact they can't see each other, Mobley announces his engagement to Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest) and provokes Manners (especially with his 'Mama's boy' taunt) into a rage which drives him to spy out Mobley's fiancee. Lang suggests here that TV is a threat because of its power of surveillance. This proves to be another key theme in the film's visual design. Everywhere is seen to be open to this surveillance. This is most obvious in the open plan design of the Kyne news office. Everyone is framed in their respective cage, but it is as if the sides of each cage are invisable. Everyone can see everyone which conversely drives everyone to communicate in hidden signals and even pantomime - Mobley calling Liggett to tell her to not let her boss (Loving) so near to her, and most clearly when Griffith prepares his extra edition, ordering his staff to keep calm and act like nothing's going on in order to fool Loving. Fear of surveillance is something that has haunted Lang's work from his silent days (those screens in Metropolis (1926)) right through to those multiple TV screens in Lang's last picture, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). As much as we humans are individuals we are all somehow part of a bigger machine which is overseen by 'someone' somewhere. This paranoia cuts to the heart of Lang's universe.

The framing of people in a surveillance-driven society with the TV screen being a camera as much as anything else is subtlely reflected in the way Lang treats the actors. Most obvious is the way Manners has to get a picture of a woman in his head before he gets the sexual urge. Twice in the film he (and Lang's camera) frames victims in doorways before moving in for the kill. Lang's obsession with framing reached perfection in M and was developed further through Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). In While the City Sleeps Manners is framed by Mobley talking to him through a TV screen (another frame!). Concurrant with this is Lang's own framing of both Manners and Mobley in which parallels between the two are underlined repeatedly. Mobley may be the most 'noble' of the media sharks (because he is a TV celebrity and therefore above the power struggle), but Lang presents him as a doppelganger for Manners nevertheless. Mobley leers at every pretty woman that passes, allows himself to be picked up by Mildred Donner and is even labeled as 'hung up on women' by his own girlfriend, Liggett. He lets himself in to Liggett's apartment by letting loose the door catch in the same way as Manners in the pre-credit sequence and the whole plot turns on his decision to use Liggett as bait to lure Manners out of his hiding place.

While the City Sleeps does have its limitations. The psychology of Manners is way too shallow for us to really believe in him. The black leather outfit seems to be a Marlon Brando Wild One hand-me-down which adds nothing to an under-written role which Barrymore can do nothing with. Too much of the film boils down to straight dialog between people we fundamentally dislike which in itself leads to ennui. Where Ace in the Hole has savage black humour to balance its barbed cynicism, While the City Sleeps takes itself far too seriously. There are also some unlikely lurches in the plot. Talking about Manners attacking Liggett in the daytime over a cup of coffee doesn't make it immediately so as the two leap up from the table and find themselves in pursuit of their man the very next second. Such artificial plot devices run unforgiven in most films I suppose, but not in the best Lang pictures. Finally, it's the film's cynical grayness which weighs against it. In M a whole city is traumatised by a serial killer. In While the City Sleeps, people just don't care. When Mobley chases Manners down the street, they brush past by-standers who aren't interested at all.The hunt for Manners is motivated by common greed for career advancement as well as the desire to sell papers through blatent sensationalism. In this brave new world regulated by TV, people are mere cogs in a bigger machine which controls them. Gone is any ability to think or feel themselves beyond their own selfish interests. Such misanthropy makes the film ultimately a dour watch, but Lang's acute visual sense does stop us from turning off. Exposure Cinema's DVD quality is excellent in terms of sharpness and sound. Not many extras, but at this price it's a sure recommendation.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 November 2011
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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on 2 October 2017
Bonkers story but worth watching just to see an old master like Fritz Lang at work.
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on 24 November 2014
Star studded film noir set in New York 1955 with Dana Andrews in lead as reporter solving the case. Nice cameo for Ida Lupino excellent as always
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on 14 December 2010
SCARLET STREET aside, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS may well be Fritz Lang's best American film. Inheriting a media empire after his father dies, his son (Vincent Price) announces his intention to turn over the directorial reins to whoever breaks the story of the notorious "Lipstick Killer", a homicidal, woman hating maniac (John Drew Barrymore Jr., Drew's daddy) still at large. The film's characters, save one, are a nest of vipers. Each looking out for his or her own interests, ethics be damned. George Sanders sends his mistress (Ida Lupino) to pump information from a reporter (Dana Andrews) even if it means bedding him, James Craig engaged in an affair with Price's duplicitous wife (Rhonda Fleming) uses her to advance his chances while Dana Andrews uses his unwilling fiancee (Sally Forrest) as a decoy for the killer. Only Forrest and possibly Thomas Mitchell as the chief editor seem to have any recognizable ethics. Lang keeps the potential for a bombastic thriller by shooting it in a semi-documentary style using Oscar winner Ernest Laszlo's noir-ish B&W cinematography to give it a more subdued look. With Howard Duff, Mae Marsh and Vladimir Sokoloff.

The British import DVD from Indigo is a nice full frame transfer. The film was shot full frame (Lang disliked the wide screen format) and blown up for SuperScope wide screen in theatres.
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The best of Fritz Lang's `newspaper trilogy' of noirs that ended his Hollywood career in the 50s, While the City Sleeps is very good thriller that could have been a great one but still manages to be satisfying enough to forgive its shortcomings. It's certainly got a killer premise and cynicism to spare. When the old-style self-made boss of a media empire dies, his playboy son Vincent Price creates a new post for an executive to do the real work for him - and sets the three candidates the task of tracking down the `Lipstick Killer,' with the winner taking all. The closest to an honest man among them is Thomas Mitchell's old-school newspaper editor, with George Sanders' wire service chief better connected at the best restaurants and hotels than he is on the crime beat and James Craig's picture chief deciding the best way to get the job is to sleep with Price's would-be Lady MacBeth wife Rhonda Fleming. The closest we have to a hero is Dana Andrews' Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist - respected, well-connected, well-liked, a bit too fond of a drink (no acting required there) but his ambition `blunted by kindness.' Initially drawn in as an ally of Mitchell, he soon becomes as hungry as the rest of them, using his girlfriend as bait without even asking her and not above smooching with Ida Lupino's glamorous gossip columnist afterwards. John Drew Barrymore's thinly-drawn homicidal mother's boy may be a psychopath, but they all KNOW what they're doing and do it anyway...

RKO Radio Pictures were almost at the end of the road when they made this in 1956 and towards the end you definitely get the feeling that this could have benefited from a bigger budget - the final chase in particular veers too close to the perfunctory. Although Lang's direction keeps its grip, visually it's fairly straightforward: he might be returning to vaguely similar ground as M with another disturbed killer, but he rarely manages to hide the fact that he's working on fairly flatly lit standing sets that don't offer much chance for mood or expression. But, if you can overlook the terrifying sight of Price in shorts and socks, there's still much to admire, from the freely flowing vitriol to its depiction of a cutthroat multimedia empire encompassing wire, print and television, not to mention a surprisingly tense sequence of trying to keep a scoop secret not from other papers but from the staff of their own. It's also interesting to note the way it inadvertently set the tone for many giallos that would follow, not least with its culpable flawed hero and the black-gloved sexually motivated killer who is almost his mirror image. The final scene unfortunately wraps things up a tad too happily, displaying an unconvincing display of morality and just desserts at odds with the rest of the film, but while it's not a great film, While the City Sleeps still manages to be a very good one.

Exposure's PAL DVD offers a surprisingly good transfer in Lang's intended fullframe rather than the faux `SuperScope' ratio that masked off the top and bottom of the image used on its US theatrical release (the film was released in that cropped 2:1 ratio in the US, but only as an expensive manufactured-on-demand DVD-R with no extras). Where the US DVD-R is a little too bright and soft in places, Exposure's release is better graded and thankfully not a worn public domain print - focus and detail are strong and there's only a minimal amount of damage to the master. Extras on the UK DVD are a rather ropey looking theatrical trailer that looks like it was downloaded from a faulty internet connection and good press book, stills and poster art galleries that are annoyingly `locked' so you have to sit through several long slide shows without being able to fast forward if you're looking for a particular image, though there are some shots from deleted scenes implying Barrymore had a much larger role before the final edit.
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on 14 July 2014
Is it just me? I found this a real clunker, easily the worst Lang movie i've seen. The acting is terrible - Dana Andrews in particular spends the whole movie slurring his words and not just in the scenes where he's supposed to be drunk. The dialogue is also dreadful - sample - 'I'm as honest as the day is long' 'yes if it's the shortest day of the year'. zing! As a satire of a corrupt media Ace in the Hole and the Sweet Smell of Success trample this into the dirt. 3 stars for the photography and that's me being generous.
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on 14 November 2010
A strong cast, a top-notch director... that's as far as the chemistry goes. The film is by no stretch of the imagination comparable to Fritz Lang's best work nor is it a candidate for film noir posterity. That definition, of course, is not a statutory classification, but anyone expecting something like, say, "The Big Sleep," will find this film is not even on the same continent.
There are some unusual, compositional elements that carry the Lang touch; the dialogue is unusually risque for its era; and some of the name actors do good work, some of the time. Yet, there is a fatal problem for me: the film does not know what it wants to be. A murder mystery (John Barrymore Jnr as the killer is weak - perhaps Lang found that out too late)? A corporate intrigue (it spends a lot of time on this, but the Vincent Price character is not only unattractive but uninteresting)? A romantic comedy (Dana Andrews and Sally Forest are the vehicle - she is believable, though she is given some dumb lines, but Andrews is drunk - in and out of character, one suspects - too much of the time; it just gets tedious)? The film comes together, all too briefly, for the chase sequence, and then ends with a Hitchcock-esque bedroom scene that - well - was the sort of thing done much better by Hitchcock. It is a marginal 3 stars - it gets there for the performance of the endearing Thomas Mitchell, who never falters. Ida Lupino is a pretty effective femme fatale - but the character is a mere contrivance, a 'B' movie prop. Don't be persuaded by the PR talk of "hidden gem," et cetera: this is ordinary.
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