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Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A satisfying, big-city movie sort of a Grand Hotel or Dinner At Eight gone noir
Contrary to the croonings of Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra, The City That Never Sleeps is not New York, New York but Chicago, Illinois. At least it is in John H. Auer's 1953 movie of that name, sort of a noir-inflected Grand Hotel or Dinner At Eight, that opens and closes with floodlit vistas of the wedding-cake Wrigley Building. Several characters' lives intersect in an urban crime drama that even offers a touch of the fanciful.
Gig Young, at the center, plays a cop who's dissatisfied with his job and with his marriage (his wife, Paula Raymond, makes more money than he does). Off hours, he hangs around a strip club called The Silver Frolics on Wabash Avenue to see, both on stage and backstage, headliner Mala Powers. That relationship is a rocky as his marriage, and she's as unhappy with her lot as he with his (`Whaddaya want me to do? Crawl into a deep freeze?' she taunts him during yet another breakup). Then Young heads to the precinct for the graveyard shift, riding in a prowl car with a new partner he's never met before (Chill Wills, who also plays the unseen `Voice of the City').
During Young's nocturnal tour he meets up again and again with the various players in the plot. There's rich, crooked lawyer Edward Arnold, who blackmails him into burglarizing some incriminating papers; his two-timing wife, Marie Windsor; former magician turned criminal William Talman; his own brother (Ron Hagerthy) who's now Talman's apprentice; his pop (Otto Hulett), a police veteran; and a `mechanical man' (Gregg Warren) who entertains passersby in the Silver Frolics' window.
Some of the ties among the characters are up front, others furtive, to be doled out as the plots thicken. By the end (Poverty Row having learned the lessons MGM taught a couple of decades earlier in the titles cited above), there's tragedy and heartache, reappraisals and reconciliations. There's even a character who vanishes as mysteriously as he materialized a whiff of the supernatural which curiously fails to leave any influence on the way the stories unfold.
The City That Never Sleeps shows the right breadth for a big, urban story from Arnold's moderne penthouse to Young's middle-class flat to the raffish alleys running off Wabash Avenue. Director of photography John Russell (later to film Psycho) helps Auer out with some crafty touches (a telephone dial glowing from a flashlight shone upon it comes to mind). It's not a haunting movie, but it's a satisfying one a title that did Republic Pictures proud.
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