Welcome to this week’s edition of FilmStruck Friday! Every Friday here on TMP, with the exception of the first Friday of the month (which is reserved for “Favorite things about…”), we’ll be taking a look at a film available through the TCM and Criterion Collection streaming service. Today’s film comes from 1956 – While the City Sleeps. Happy viewing!
A serial killer has been victimizing women in New York City. Dubbed “The Lipstick Killer” by Amos Kyne’s (Robert Warwick) newspaper, police and reporters are desperate to discover the identity of the murderer.
When Kyne himself passes away, his son Walter (Vincent Price) is put in charge of the company. He decides to have a little fun with the “Lipstick Killer” case, creating a competition between his employees. Whoever can score an exclusive identification of the killer before the police will be given the title of Executive Director.
Vying for that prize are Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), the newspaper’s editor; Mark Loving (George Sanders), the wire-service chief who hopes his star reporter Mildred (Ida Lupino) can crack the case; and Harry Kritzer (James Craig), the secret lover of Walter Kyne’s wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming).
Also involved in the mess is one of Kyne’s most prominent reporters, Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), who works in television news. He has an in with the police, a long-standing friendship with Lt. Kaufman (Howard Duff). They hatch a plan to bait the killer, but how many women will die before he’s caught?
Fritz Lang directs 1956’s While the City Sleeps. The film’s screenplay was written by Casey Robinson from the novel The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein.
With a big-name director and a star-packed cast including several of my personal favorites, While the City Sleeps is the type of film I can’t help going into with very high expectations. Luckily, this one by and large lived up to those lofty expectations.
Balancing the company competition and the “Lipstick Killer” case itself, While the City Sleeps includes elements of romance, criminal intrigue, corporate drama, and suspense. All of these factors are generally well-balanced. Much attention is paid to the competition, and to the frenzied world of journalism, but real danger comes to some of the characters as the film progresses, too.
The film is very well-scripted, with not a single moment that feels unnecessary or out of place. Some of my favorite scenes are those of Dana Andrews conducting his character’s TV news reports. He perfectly embodies the stern journalist.
Andrews isn’t the only actor to impress. There isn’t a bad player in the bunch, fine performances matching the quality of the script and bringing a sense of seriousness to the case-cracking competition. Ida Lupino is a definite highlight as “Mildred,” her scenes with Dana Andrews being some of the film’s most memorable. I was also impressed by the killer himself — John Barrymore, Jr.
There’s plenty of scheming involved in the film as a whole, meaning that no character is perfect, and no one is a hero. Mobley, for instance, puts his own fiancée in danger in order to lure in the killer.
The film wraps up with a very tense final half hour involving a chase in a dark subway tunnel, holding a firm grip on the viewer’s attention for as long as possible.
I’ve never seen a Lang film I didn’t like, and While the City Sleeps is no exception to that rule. Recommended!