While the City Sleeps (1956) Poster

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Not to be missed!
Kalaman16 August 2002
One of my favorites by Fritz Lang, "While the City Sleeps" is also one of the neglected masterworks of 1950s American cinema, a decade as you may know full of insight and social criticism (e.g. "Ace in the Hole", "Bigger Than Life", "Phenix City Story", etc.) It was Lang's penultimate American film and one of his personal favorites.

The film, a dazzling allegory on media manipulation and modernity may not work on single viewing and perhaps that's why it's so underrated, despite a superb cast: Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, Mae Marsh, Rhonda Fleming and John Drew Barrymore(the son of the great John Barrymore).

In discussing the picture, Lang often compared it to his German masterpiece, "M"(1931) and the comparison is not inapt. In "M", Peter Lorre's Hans Beckert terrorizes the whole city and creates a paranoia among its citizens. In "While the City Sleeps", Manners's crimes mainly function as a gimmick for the press to sell papers while the normal life in the city seems to continue. Rather than simply conveying the necessary information in "M", the media here in "While the City Sleeps" (consisting of an interplay between television and newspaper) is much more ironic and cynical: they use Manners and his victims to terrify the public to sell more papers, something that is equally true today as it was back in 1956.

Not to be missed.
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Lang's cynical critique of American values
MOscarbradley1 October 2007
Between 1936 and 1956, during his tenure in America, the German director Fritz Lang made some of the most psychologically astute movies ever to come out of the studio system, often working with the flimsiest of material; pulpish fiction indeed. Most of these films were thrillers, though perhaps only in the most nebulous sense of the term, dealing instead with the psychosis of the killer or, as here, with the iniquitous motives of those on the periphery of the case. 'Plot', in the strictest sense of the term, never really interested Lang, 'the story' as such being secondary to the observational detail and the characterizations. In "While the City Sleeps" the serial killer whom we expect to be at the centre is side-lined to such an extent that catching him is never the focus of attention. He's the 'McGuffin', if you like, for an entirely different movie, one in which the thriller element is dispatched in favour of a study of greed and the relationships, not always savory, between men and women.

The film is set in the world of newspapers and news agencies, so you expect an aura of venality from the outset. Vincent Price is the vain, self-centered scion of a recently deceased magnate who has taken over his father's business and wants someone else to do all the work. So he creates a new executive position then sets three of his top men against each other vying for the job. The one who 'catches' or names the serial killer terrorizing women in New York, gets it.

Like many of Lang's films, "While the City Sleeps" had the tawdry feel of a B-movie. There is a kind of rough urgency to it that a more main-streamed movie might have lacked. (You could say Lang's genius was for making silk purses out of sow's ears). He didn't work with 'stars' but character players. About the biggest name in the movie and the 'star' of the picture is Dana Andrews, (superb, he was a very under-rated actor), as the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who, like many of Lang's characters, is less noble than he first appears. As for the rest, despite there being two Oscar winners in the cast, (George Sanders, one of his poorer performances, and Thomas Mitchell, excellent), they were mainly the stable diet of the B-movie, though that said there is a terrific performance from the under-rated Sally Forrest as Andrews' girl who he is not above using as bait to catch the killer and a typically flamboyant one from Ida Lupino.

After this, Lang was to make only one more film in America before returning to his native Germany, the equally cynical "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt". Indeed it's Lang's cynicism and his critique of American values and mores that set him apart, that put him, like those other European émigrés, Otto Preminger and Douglas Sirk at a critical remove from his American counterparts. In this respect, perhaps, the only American who can be compared to him is Samuel Fuller.
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One of the Best Newspaper Films; a Taut Drama of Ideas and Actions
silverscreen88817 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is my favorite film of all time on the absorbing subject of how to and how not to run a newspaper, after "The Fountainhead". The very clever main plot concerns what happens at the Kyne News Service when its founder/boss dies suddenly; his corrupt heir soon decides to stage a contest among the heads of the Service's three divisions--to keep them under his thumb while he pretends to be boss--while Ed Mobley, the boss's former heir-apparent refuses to ask to participate. The machinations of the three aspirants are then played out against Mobley's pursuit of a rapist known as 'The Lipstick Killer" and Mobley's pursuit of his skittish fiancée who has her own doubts about him and the situation. The authors of the piece in the first half of the film seem to my standards do have done better than anyone else ever has in presenting the point of view of those who define, cover and are affected by 'the news'--news of the day or more lasting sorts. This classy but never glossy B/W film was very well directed by veteran Fritz Lang, with screenplay credited to Charles Einstein and Casey Robinson. The sets by Joel Mills are very good, lighting is excellent, and the costumes by Norma and music (by Herschel Burke-Gilbert)are seamlessly good. But the fascinating element in the film for me is the very good acting Lang gets from a mixed cast of young and veteran performers. Fine actor Robert Warwick's demise as Amos Kyne leaves his son Vincent Price, wonderfully unprincipled, in charge of his empire. As the three division heads, the viewer has the fun of watching George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell and James Craig, with the ladies who complicate their lives being hard-boiled Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, at her best in every sense, and lovely young Sally Forrest. Everyone is very good indeed. Mobley is played very well by Dana Andrews. John Drew Barrymore is the killer, in his first major role, and his long-suffering mother is played by Mae Marsh. The climax of the film comes when the killer stalks Mobley's fiancée, and he has to wonder even if he succeeds in setting her up in a successful trap ( rigged for the man who's already stalking her thanks to his having taunted him on the airwaves) whether she will still want him or not. The climax is active and satisfying; and the denouement and ending even better. This is a first-rate and well-remembered film that just missed being even greater. I never miss it; and my advice to anyone is to adopt the same attitude.
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sometimes interesting, sometimes kind of dumb
cherold8 July 2005
While the City Sleeps has an interesting premise. A newspaper is taken over by a rather dissolute millionaire who sets three executives scrambling for a big promotion. They all have different angles to get the job, but the main focus is on the attempt to show off their skills by getting the best news on a wanted serial killer.

This is a promising setup for a hard-edged examination of the cynicism of the newspaper industry, but it lacks that hard, cynical edge. The movie doesn't seem to be all that appalled by the actions of its executives nor does one get a real sense of hard men doing anything to get ahead. In other words, this is no Sweet Smell of Success.

The movie also has some pretty dumb plot elements, most notably reporter Andrews absurd plan to catch the killer. Admittedly this is pretty typical of movies of the kind, but that doesn't make it any less stupid. The dialogue is artificial and often a little ridiculous.

On the plus side, the movie has an entertaining adult sensibility. Even though the Hayes code means little is said explicitly, there is a remarkable amount of implied sex in this movie, and the sleaziness of most of its characters is the most interesting aspect of the film. But overall, this is just sort of watchable.
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Lang tries a more popular style of crime drama as his American career winds down
bmacv28 June 2004
Tugboats scudding down a dark river nudge us urgently into `New York City – Tonight.' Fritz Lang's While The City Sleep opens like an urban legend: A drugstore delivery man (John Barrymore, Jr.) invades an apartment on a quiet street of brownstones and murders a young woman. Scrawled on the wall in lipstick is a cryptic, chilling order – `Ask mother.'

But Lang swiftly shifts registers; the young psycho-killer is but leaven for his loaf. His prime focus proves to be how the search to catch the culprit plays out in the executive suite of a huge media syndicate. Its founder, Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), rules his empire from a hospital bed in his office; his last order, before his ticker tocks its last, is to label the anonymous Barrymore `the lipstick killer' and play him big. (`Kyne' seems deliberately to evoke another press magnate, Charles Foster Kane, even down to the maps showing his coast-to-coast reach and the encircled `K' logo that could have been ripped off the gates of Xanadu.)

Kyne's power, however, devolves to his pompous, petty son (Vincent Price). Knowing they hold him in contempt, he sets the heads of his various divisions to finding the killer, with a new directorship as the prize. Among the contenders are Thomas Mitchell, editor of the syndicate's flagship newspaper, the Sentinel; George Sanders, chief of its wire service; and James Craig, who runs its photo operation. Above the fray is Pulitzer-Prize winning TV commentator Dana Andrews, whose only ambition is to be left alone to pursue his drinking and his girl (Sally Forrest). Nor are any women eligible for the prize, though Price's trophy wife (Rhonda Fleming) pulls strings on behalf of her lover Craig, while mink-wrapped sob sister Ida Lupino (`Champagne cocktail. Brandy float.') initiates like maneuvers for her squeeze, Sanders.

Indifference to the prize, however, doesn't dampen Andrews' journalistic ardor. Not only does he use his broadcast to bait the `momma's boy' (who watches in his jammies as his mother, Mae Marsh, dotingly dithers around), he sets up Forrest as bait. For all his menace, Barrymore's not the brightest lad in the boroughs, and thus can be excused for mixing up his targets....

With its high-powered (and hammy) cast, its blend of psychopathology and cutthroat corporate culture, While The City Sleeps would end up standing as Lang's last American film but one (the far-fetched Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, also starring Andrews). His following so many plot strands results in a thinning of atmosphere, some fragmentation of focus – there's a buoyancy of tone which was decidedly absent from his other films of the ‘50s, like Clash By Night or The Big Heat or Human Desire. While The City Sleeps tempers hard-core noir with more mainstream motives. It's a slick, entertaining, and at times even scary movie.
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Not As Good As Advertised
GManfred11 November 2013
Maybe I was expecting too much from this picture. It's billed as a film noir, but I thought the mood was all wrong for a film noir. More like a melodrama bordering on a drama but for the presence of John Barrymore, Jr. It had a great cast with lots off recognizable names and the director was Fritz Lang.

I just thought it wasn't up to the lofty standard set by Lang in earlier films like 'M" and "The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse", but truth be told, these pictures were made many years before this one. Too much dialogue here, and this picture dearly needed an injection of excitement to break the tedium of the love stories in the sub-plot.

I like Dana Andrews, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, et al. A big boost was provided by Ida Lupino, always professional, as a sleep-around newspaper columnist. I also felt Barrymore tended toward ham in his portrayal of the psycho killer. My overall impression is of a master director who was losing his fastball, which is a shame. It could have been so much better.
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Could have been darker and grittier but is still an enjoyable ensemble mystery
bob the moo22 February 2005
When media mogul Amos Kyne dies his playboy son takes over the seat of power but, knowing he is unable to manage such an organisation he decides to create an executive directorship just below his role to do all the real work and day to day managing of the company. Meanwhile a serial killer is stalking the city, strangling young women in their homes. With this story becoming big news Kyne Jr decides how he will appoint his new Ex Director – it will be the first of the potential employees to bring him the scoop on the Lipstick Killer, as he is known.

With an intriguing plot and an impressive ensemble approach with the casting, this film offered much and, although it could have been darker in tone, it still offered a lot of potential to be a slick urban mystery. The story is basically a mystery where a group of mercenary journalists compete for a top job by trying to catch a serial killer. Typical for this sort of thing, the journalists are all hard-talking and hard-drinking while still being likable rogues to a man; the driven edge they have offers much but the film doesn't follow through – for example I was shocked by the idea of Mobley offering his own fiancé up as bait but disliked the way she treated it as a bit of a laugh and didn't respond convincingly. Likewise the story contains adultery and betrayal between the characters and while it hints at much it doesn't throw up as many ethical shadows as I felt it should be doing. Regardless of this the story is still good; the mystery aspect is not that interesting and, despite the fact people were being killed I didn't ever feel like it was a race against time or anything. What the story does better is to develop the various characters and draw the drama from their relationships and tensions.

For this reason the ensemble cast does pretty well and features a host of big names. Andrews is the lead of the group and he has a good presence although I would have liked him to be a little bit less likable and be as ethically questionable as his methods suggest he was. Sanders is not that great, mainly because his material is not as strong; conversely Craig is better because his material is more interesting. Price is good in his role and Mitchell provides good support and fits the newspaper editor stereotype. Fleming and Lupino are much better than Forrest, who is a bit weak when viewed alongside such actors. Barrymore, Warwick and others do well in smaller roles but the guy who played the Lipstick Killer was a bit of a pain as he seemed to relentlessly ham it up and skulk around all to obviously.

Overall though the film stands up and is an enjoyable ensemble drama with a bit of mystery tension. The actual race to find the killer is less of a draw than the tensions between the journalists and their partners and it never got as exciting as it should have done but it is still interesting. Viewers who like their noirs to be a bit murkier and darker may be disappointed to find that the script hints at darkness but also keeps everyone likable – a failing I must admit bothered me because I could see the potential but other than this it is still worth watching.
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They'd sell out their own mothers!
Spikeopath27 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
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 Forrest'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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solid acting, writing and direction
MartinHafer14 April 2007
While this is the sort of film that will not appeal to everyone (particularly teens and action film fans), this is a very well made drama from famed director, Fritz Lang. Unfortunately for Lang, his success directing American films was very limited and he eventually moved back to Europe soon after completing WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS. It's a shame, really, because many of his films (such as SCARLET STREET and this one) were darned good films but weren't blockbusters and weren't received too well by the public.

This film stars one of my favorite actors, Dana Andrews, though he is certainly NOT the entire show--as he has many fine supporting actors to make this movie about the future of a media empire quite interesting. Towards the very beginning of the film, the owner of a news wire service, newspaper and TV news empire dies--leaving the future to his ne'er do-well son (Vincent Price). Instead of picking a man to head this organization, he deliberately pushes these men to try to undermine and outdo each other to garner his favor! At the same time, there is a plot involving a serial killer which soon takes up most of the film's focus--particularly Dana Andrews'. How all this is worked out is pretty interesting and seemed pretty realistic. While not a great film, it was very good and is worth your time if you'd like a more cerebral type film as opposed to an action or suspense film (though there is quite a bit of both towards the very end).
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Entertaining But Unexciting
screenman23 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
'While The City Sleeps' is a tale about nocturnal goings-on and those who engage in them. In this case, villains, cops & journalists. The villain in question is a serial killer. Dana Andrews plays a star investigative reporter at a paper with executive power struggles.

There's plenty of American stalwarts of the day, including its director, but the movie never generates much momentum. Lang seemed to be making a point about the interaction between the three branches of life. As a result, presentation is piecemeal and priorities seem a little confused. We focus on the petty rivalries of those at the paper, whilst some villain is murdering lonely women. A great deal of time is spent following Andrews' character's turbulent love-life. This would be fine if the movie was a romantic comedy of manners, but it tends to eclipse the stalking beast and his terrible crimes. Likewise the squabbling over promotion amongst his colleagues.

All the threads rub along together. there's almost no developing tension. Only when the stalker goes after Andrews' fiancée do things move up a gear. But he's caught after a pretty formulaic chase. Then we're back to the office squabbles again.

It's often described as a film-noir, but doesn't cut it for me. It's too stagy, filming is unimaginative, the plot is too predictable, the action too stilted and even the script is only average. Chandler it ain't.

Worth a watch if there's nothing else to do, but it's just a pot-boiler, and certainly no classic.
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This is Fritz Lang?????
Bucs196019 June 2007
I have trouble equating this film with the other works of Fritz Lang. Did he do this on a bet that he could take a cast of good actors and make a boring movie? Well, he won the bet.

This is basically the story of inter-office politics in a large newspaper empire as the main protagonists vie for the job of Executive Director (I thought that the head honcho at a newspaper was the Editor). The catalyst is the infamous Lipstick Killer murders and all concerned are trying to beat the others to the punch by solving the case and thereby securing the sought after position. Not a bad premise but it just 'aint working here.

Dana Andrews plays a star reporter who drinks way too much (art imitating life) and plays around on his girlfriend. Vincent Price is the spoiled owner of the newspaper who is married to the two-timing Rhonda Fleming. George Sanders is his usual suave self.....and Thomas Mitchell is.....well, just Thomas Mitchell. Ida Lupino is a catty and not-so-nice columnist and her real life husband, Howard Duff, shows up as the police officer. And then there is John Drew Barrymore (famous son and father) as the killer. What a strange dude! It all sounds good, right? Wrong!! It drags, it gets a little bit silly and you really don't care who gets the stupid job anyway. And Lang said that this was one of his favorite films. He must have been in his dotage. There is no comparison here with his master works of earlier times.

It's not a complete waste of time since there are fine actors here doing their best. Some might like it but it is sadly lacking in excitement and the Fritz Lang magic.
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While the director is half asleep
jc-osms16 October 2017
Not one of the great Fritz Lang's greatest, "While The City Sleeps" despite its great Film Noir title never really wakens itself up. It has its moments but with a confusing plot-line, some confused casting and acting to go with it, it was something of a disappointment to this long-term Lang fan.

It starts well enough with the shocking murder of a young girl in her apartment, although too soon we're shown who the murderer is, a young Elvis lookalike and given the usual Freudian explanations - father left when he was young, mother wanted a girl instead of a boy - for his crimes. Hitchcock of course treated the subject of a mother-fixated psychopath just a bit better a few years later and I would doubt he learned much from his great contemporary's earlier take on the subject.

Mixed in with this is a weird background story of three prominent newspaper staff members set against each other for the top job on the paper by a miscast Vincent Price as the heir to the paper's owner who conveniently dies barely minutes into the film. The late mogul's preferred choice to take over the reins is crusading Pulitzer Prize winning author and now occasional reporter and TV broadcaster, Dana Andrews, whose character appears more often drunk than sober and who has an unattractively off-hand way with his adoring girlfriend, at one point offering her as bait for the killer without even asking her. To be fair, this race to the top amongst the three contenders holds almost no viewer interest and only detracts from the main plot. Throw in Ida Lupino as an on-the-make female reporter, content to seduce Andrews at the behest of her equally miscast editor boss George Sanders, Rhonda Fleming as Price's philandering wife and Sally Forrest, with a trendy boy-ish hair cut as Andrews' too young now-she-loves-him, now-she-doesn't girlfriend and there really are too many cooks spoiling this particular pot-boiler.

There are also several scenes which are just plain odd, like when Lupino's character attempts to beguile Andrews by using an old-fashioned, supposedly salacious spectrograph which turns out to contains an image of a swaddling baby or when Price, in a natty pair of shorts practises his putting while in conversation with his statuesque wife who is striking poses in her beach-wear.

The film really had no attractive characters and the female characters in particular are poorly written. There is a noticeably adult approach to the filming of the loosely-termed love scenes (one especially where an adulterous conversation is played out with a bed prominently in the background) and the final attack on Price's wife is noticeably realistic, but this film lacks the imaginative flair of director Lang's best work and ranks as one of his few failures in my book.
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Simplistic film looks pretty corny today...
moonspinner5513 November 2005
New York City reporters compete for news-items on a serial killer who targets young women. Disappointingly awkward drama from revered director Fritz Lang, here taking an oddly conventional approach to the story and scenario while completely ignoring the suspenseful possibilities therein. Of course, it's a newspaper drama--not a serial killer thriller; still Lang's general workman-like feel doesn't give the narrative any urgency. Vincent Price is appropriately, amusingly snide and sniveling as the inherited-owner of the newspaper; Dana Andrews is typically solid as a prize-winning columnist, but other performances fail to ignite. ** from ****
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We Have To Do More Than Keep Media Giants From Growing Larger; They Were Already Too Big In 1956.
jzappa29 November 2009
Media mogul Amos Kyne dies at the inception of a juicy item about a sex killer designated the Lipstick Killer. Amos orders his newspaper chief to hustle all out with that story. Amos's megacorp domain is comprised of a major newspaper, a television station, and a wire news service. It's bequeathed to his singular beneficiary, his pariah son Vincent Price, who hits the ground running to establish that he's not his father's imbecile offspring by devising a new top executive position to act as his man Friday and run the whole enterprise, and grants the candidacy to be among the city editor played with Thomas Mitchell's infectious presence, the head of the wire service played with George Sanders' Transatlantic adaptation of his unabashedly British persona, and the photo editor played with James Craig's old-fashioned American masculinity. The plotting Sanders and the factotum Mitchell egotistically vie for the job and struggle to crack the headline murder case, feeling that the one who solves that case will get the job. At the same time, Craig is having an affair with Walter's eye-popping wife Rhonda Fleming, and hopes to get the job through her seductive wiles. Pulitzer-winning reporter and the station's commentator, played by the always appealing laid-back Dana Andrews, is unwilling to get involved, but after all does and signs on to help his close friend Mitchell.

Fritz Lang's 22nd English-language film, which itself, interestingly, is a conglomeration of film noir, psychological thriller and sociopolitical drama, is a complete observation of the modern media. It applies to a media empire which merges newspapers, wire services, photography and television. All of these come under acute and generally cynical analysis in this film. The utter notion that so many different media are all amalgamated in one company scares this film's forever socially concerned director Fritz Lang, who sees the makings of fascistic tyranny here, something of which his own first-hand experience surely made him particularly wary.

The K symbol that is everywhere in While the City Sleeps as the insignia of a media empire. One recalls that in real life, the CBS eye was part of the first successful corporate logo and corporate identity crusade of any modern corporation. It is intriguing that Lang, with his eye consistently scanning for the cutting edge of communications, would give the media empire in his film such a syndicated characteristic. Real corporate media offices look significantly flashier than the dishwater headquarters of the media in Lang's film.

The media show up in other, more esoteric ways, as well. The bar is rife with photographs, ostensibly of celebrities who've stopped off at it. The photo-viewer maneuvered by Ida Lupino, who plays Sanders' star journalist with detached intensity, evinces Lang's strong interest in new media. Even the car chase at the end of the film involves a car knocking over a mailbox, part of the broadcasting framework of contemporary civilization.

Somehow the killer, who is psychologically troubled and cannot help himself, is treated in a more sensitive depiction than any of the cutthroat newspaper people. He is played by John Drew Barrymore in a vivacious and edgy performance. He is sporadically seen, but with intrigue as we almost always see him alone, and even once at his home with his mother, a wrenchingly sad scene. Even the story's apparently most upright character, Dana Andrews, utilizes his girlfriend to get what he wants, which is not necessarily worlds apart from what Craig's character does. The essence of the story is seen through the glass-walled newspaper offices and all the deceitful day-to-day goings-on there are disclosed, as Lang secures his most severe reckoning on the indiscriminately aggressive newspaper people who could so easily forfeit their dignity for control, fanfare and affluence.
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Nice tone, shame about the plot
paul2001sw-117 March 2005
Fritz Lang is widely regarded as one of the leading directors of his time, so a look at 'While the City Sleeps', one of his last films, should provide an interesting insight into where the art of cinema was in the mid-1950s. By far the weakest part of this film is its ludicrous central story, about a weird psycho-killer who likes to leave clues for the police whilst murdering without rational motive, but who is ultimately outwitted by a cleverer opponent. This is not a good plot, but it is one that continues to be re-used to the present day. Much stronger, and equally modern, is the irreverent subplot about a group of cynical journalists in a Murdoch-style media conglomerate jockeying for position and hoping to ride to success on the back of their coverage of the slayings. The film cuts between the different story lines with speed and humour, and the dialogue is quite sharp. However, the general level of realism is much poorer than in in today's films, the action scenes are especially weak and there's a stagey feel, even when the script is at it's most sparkling. And while not a criticism of the film, it's also dated by the titanic quantities of drinking and smoking engaged in by all the characters (did anyone ever live past 50?) Still, overall there's a lot to enjoy here, pleasures offset principally by the regretful discovery that Hollywood's misguided fascination with mindless mass-murderers is anything but a new phenomenon.
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While the Audience Sleeps
dcshanno17 November 2004
Dana Andrews George Sanders Thomas Mitchell Vincent Price Ida Lupino Fritz Lang

How could this go wrong? 'While the City Sleeps' probably would have made a better movie if it had been shot as a big, gaudy, Technicolor melodrama, a soap opera about the inner workings of a news conglomerate. It could have been a who's sleeping with who, who's stabbing who in the back-type of movie punctuated with a subplot about a serial killer on the loose. It fails, however, as a noirish crime drama. Pretty dull stuff.
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Despite a great cast, this film drags........
gnrz20 September 1999
This is a movie that should have been much better than it was. When I saw the listing of who was in the cast and when I read a brief synopsis of the story, I expected to be royally entertained with a good suspense filled film. I watched about three-fourths of the movie before I gave up. It is very slow moving with virtually no action and a great excess of talk. The overabundance of sub-plots just adds to the plodding nature of the story.
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Dumb cops and newsmen
gomike8248 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was already moving too slow for me when it came to the scene with the cops interrogating their main suspect: the old man janitor. They state in their questioning that the drug store delivery guy came to the first victim's apartment at 8:00. Yet they, and the newsmen, focus solely on the old janitor while seemingly paying no attention to the drug store deliverer.

I have a very high regard for Fritz Lang's work, the film noir genre and this movie's cast. I just couldn't get past this wtf police work. Also, as a previous reviewer noted, Dana Andrews plays an annoyingly unconvincing drunk.
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Fritz Lang's crime drama should have been better, given its cast, subject matter
jacobs-greenwood6 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Directed by Fritz Lang, with a screenplay by Casey Robinson, this slightly above average crime drama, behind the scenes media expose features an all star cast that includes Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, James Craig, Ida Lupino, and Robert Warwick, among others.

It's interesting to see how the media and police worked together in the mid-50's vs. at cross purposes (it seems) these days. More relevant to today is the storyline about different media branches within the same news organization (print, television, and wire) competing against each other to be first with the story, or for exclusives. This film is probably ripe for a remake given the explosion of the Internet. Also, the criminal profiling that Andrews's and Duff's characters do, though not seminal, is interesting even if it is taken to incredible extremes late in the movie.

Amos Kyne (Warwick), the head of a media conglomerate, dies, leaving his spoiled, almost maniacal son Walter (Price) in charge of it. Walter decides it would be a good idea to establish an executive position to run things for him; he'll pick one of the heads of the organization's main departments for the job. This means news-wire head Mark Loving (Sanders), newspaper head John Day Griffith (Mitchell), and news pictures chief Harry Kritzer (Craig) must compete for it.

Edward Mobley (Andrews), the Pulitzer Prize winning author who heads television news, refuses to participate. Walter has a chip on his shoulder about Mobley anyway since his father had been grooming him for the job even though Mobley lacked the ambition and/or didn't want the responsibility. As luck would have it, just before Kyne's death, a major story broke - a murder of an attractive young woman was committed whereby the killer wrote "ask mother" in lipstick on the wall of her apartment. Walter makes it clear that solving this crime will be a major feather in the cap of the man that does, as far as this new executive position is concerned.

All this is happening at the same time that Mobley has finally popped the question to Loving's secretary Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest). Both Loving and Griffith vie for assistance from Mobley, who has good contacts within the police department like Lieutenant Burt Kaufman (Duff), while 'honest' (?) Harry plans to lie low and use Kyne's wife Dorothy (Fleming), with whom he's having an affair, as his inside track to the job. Loving is willing to stoop pretty low himself, using his main squeeze, female reporter Mildred Donner (Lupino), to seduce Mobley into helping him. Ralph Peters appears as one of Griffith's reporters; Joe Devlin (uncredited) as another on his staff.

Meanwhile, we see the murderer, dubbed the lipstick killer (John Drew Barrymore; yes, John Barrymore Jr.) fits the profile description Mobley reads on the air - a 20 year old "boy" with perverse ideas about male-female relationships that still lives with his "unloving" mother (Mae Marsh).

Unfortunately, a few too many coincidences (like the fact that Kritzer's apartment is across the hall from Liggett's), the suddenly razor sharp analysis and too conveniently timed second Mobley- Kaufman profiling luncheon followed by a fairly lame chase, the sub- par Mobley-Liggett "romance" plot-line (esp. the off-key comic relief elements) detract from what would otherwise be an above average film.

Of course, a modern viewer has to be careful not to be jaded by the more current crime films "he's" seen, else his enjoyment of this one would be even less.
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Entertaining newspaper story directed by Fritz Lang
blanche-28 April 2007
Fritz Lang, who brought us so many marvelous films in the '30s and '40s - Metropolis, M, Fury, Woman in the Window, Scarlett Street etc., by the 1950s was in a decline. With the problems that the studios were having coping with television and the breakup of their monopoly of theaters, no one really wanted to deal with the difficult Lang. Therefore, he was relegated to B movies, some of which, like "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" are quite impressive.

1956's "While the City Sleeps" is a little less impressive but still highly entertaining. It stars some actors who had either seen better days in film or hadn't moved up the ladder much - Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Sally Forrest, James Craig, and John Drew Barrymore. It's a '40s cast, and the film, set in New York City, has a '40s feel to it.

Andrews plays a Pulitzer-prize winning writer, Ed Mobley, an Ed Murrow type, who does a television commentary. With the death of the big boss of the media conglomerate - which includes a newspaper, television news, and a wire service - his waste of a son, Walter Kyne, (Price) takes over the company. He sets up a competition among the three heavy-hitters in the company - the newspaper editor John Day Griffith (Mitchell), the head of the wire service, Mark Loving (Sanders) and a news photographer Harry Kritzer (Craig). The first one who solves the "Lipstick Killer" murders wins the job as director of the company.

The black and white cinematography gives "While the City Sleeps" a great atmosphere, and some of the characters are a real hoot, including Lupino, who plays Mildred, a columnist for the paper, and Rhonda Fleming as Kyne's gorgeous wife who is having an affair with one of the contenders, Kritzer. Everyone drinks like a fish at a nearby bar, Mobley gets into trouble with his fiancé Nancy (Forrest) for kissing Mildred in a cab, and Kyne's wife is discovered in flagrante delicto due to a bizarre set of circumstances. Meanwhile, Griffith and Loving fight to be first and can't figure out why Kritzer doesn't seem to be trying very hard. Well, he is, just not at the paper. Nancy is set up (with her permission) as a target for the Lipstick Killer, who uses his delivery job to unlock apartment doors by pushing in the button, and then returns and kills his single female victim.

Though a little slow at times, "While the City Sleeps" is more of a newspaper story than a mystery, so there isn't a lot of suspense or excitement to be had. It's just good, old-fashioned entertainment. Recommended for a very good cast and decent story.
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An interesting film
TheLittleSongbird10 September 2012
I don't think that While the City Sleeps is among Fritz Lang's best, like M or Metropolis. However, despite a rather tepid final chase sequence and Rhonda Fleming coming across as rather bland, it is an interesting film. It looks good, with the cinematography excellent even in the final chase, and the score has some hauntingly atmospheric themes. The dialogue is arch and sharp, with a cynical yet involving tone, and the story even in the more talky moments, and there are many of those, is compelling with some tension. Lang's direction is accomplished as are the cast. Dana Andrews is solid in the lead, while Ida Lupino oozes sex appeal and Vincent Price is wonderfully snide and unprincipled. George Sanders brings an oily if not exactly subtle nature to his role, Thomas Mitchell is again memorable and there is also a menacing performance from John Barrymore. Overall, a solid and interesting film, though not the best work that everybody here has done. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Lang leaves NY
TheFerryman3 February 2004
In the last years of his career Lang's complexity turns into apparent simple, little b-films. His themes are darker than ever, his world-view surpasses pessimism; his regard of his characters is ascetic and non-compassionate. This is Lang's farewell to New York, a city that he foresaw in Metropolis and which has by this film became a nocturnal, foggy, oppressive, subterranean, filthy grave. The staff of the `Sentinel' (the `K' of the Kyne's building reminds of the Citizen Kane empire), all concerned in the haunt of a serial killer, are themselves more monstrous than the killer himself. Still there's something haunting seeing all those scrawny faces of the good old days (Lupino, Sanders, Andrews, Mitchell) hanging at the bar, like a wax museum of the past, a closing cycle.
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Top Dog In The News Business
bkoganbing4 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Warwick appears and then dies at the beginning of While The City Sleeps. He's a Rupert Murdoch type media tycoon and he's left his empire to his rather unsteady son Vincent Price. Price is second generation wealth and looking to put his personal stamp on the empire bequeathed to him. But he'll need someone who really knows the business and three candidates present themselves, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, and James Craig. All of them use fair and foul means to gain the prize. Craig's is the foulest of all, he's carrying on with Price's tramp of a wife in Rhonda Fleming hoping the two of them will influence Price.

We've got a couple of other players in this field also. Dana Andrews sides with Mitchell who edits the local tabloid similar to the Murdoch run New York Post. Andrews has won Pulitzer Prizes the two of them decide to aid the police in capturing a serial killer before that term came into use who is targeting young women. Andrews baits the killer in his nightly newscast and also happens to mention he's just gotten engaged to Sally Forrest who works as George Sanders's secretary in the wire service portion of the empire. In a really slick piece of casting against type Sanders while having a more or less undefined role, comes off as the most sympathetic character of the lot.

Andrews ostensibly the hero is a real creep for using his girl friend Forrest as bait even with the connivance of his friend Detective Howard Duff in charge of the investigation. It nearly goes wrong.

John Drew Barrymore who had an odd career being the holder of that great name of the theater. In 1956 people had memories of his father and probably expected a classical actor in that vein. Instead Barrymore had he not had that name might have found himself a niche in Hollywood with the newer post war rebel types like James Dean or Marlon Brando. This film is one of his best performances as the woman hating, mother fixated serial killer in a career that quite frankly featured a lot of junk.

In the few scenes she's in, but stealing every one of them is Ida Lupino as an acid tongued gossip columnist in the Hedda Hopper tradition. She in her way gets the final say on who becomes top dog.

While The City Sleeps is one of the most cynical and jaded films ever to come out of Hollywood. Fritz Lang mixed a really great cast together with a great script and got quite an indictment of the news business, predating Network by 20 years. His happy ending for Andrews and Forrest didn't ring true, but other than that a great piece of work.
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Lumbering, Lang or no Lang
dougdoepke17 September 2009
A few years earlier, RKO would have shaved the sub-plots and made the kind of tight little noir the studio was so good at. A decade earlier, cult director Lang would have shaved the sub-plots and made the kind of nifty study in perverse psychology he was so good at. But this is 1956 and TV is replacing the B-movie. So a budget studio like RKO is especially scrambling for a new formula. Unfortunately, what they come up with here is a sprawling story with a bunch of hard-to-follow subplots and a cast of aging stars for marquee appeal. The result is a turgid 100-plus minutes and, except for Andrews and Mitchell, a waste of some very fine actors.

Maybe you can follow the power plays going on among the eight or so cast principals. After a while, I gave up. Folks interested in newspaper stories might find the movie worthwhile. To me, however, the various machinations come across as little more than glorified soap opera in dull shades of gray. The movie does come to life when Lipstick Killer Barrymore Jr. comes on screen and the palaver pauses for a refreshing few minutes. Too bad, the screenplay didn't allow Lang to focus more on one of his specialties, the killer's interesting mental state. But then, the script had to multiply the sub-plots and the superfluous scenes so as to accommodate the various star cameos they were paying for.

There may be a good story buried somewhere in the pottage, and there are some snappy lines, but the overall result lumbers along, Lang or no Lang. Speaking of censorship, the curvaceous Fleming's various poses and sexy calisthenics, along with the script's smirking innuendo, typifies how the industry was reacting to the challenge of TV despite Production Code constraints, and definitely dates the production to that era. In passing—is it my imagination or does the circle-K logo of Kyne enterprises duplicate the logo for Kane's publishing empire in the much superior Citizen Kane (1940), and if so, what would be the point? Also, "kine" is an archaic term for cows, just as "swine" is for pigs. Was that intentional, and if so, what would be the point of that? Anyway, the movie shows clearly RKO's floundering efforts during a period of general studio decline.
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Not Lang at his best!
JohnHowardReid22 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"While the City Sleeps" may be Lang's second favorite U.S. film but I still think it's rather dull. There is very little action — even the climactic chase through the subway is not all that exciting — and a great deal of talk. The characters never fully engage the interest and very little suspense is worked up despite a two-pronged plot, combining the thriller with "Executive Suite".

Dana Andrews plays in his usual glum style, James Craig is even glummer, Sanders and Mitchell give their usual characterizations, while Ida Lupino overplays the femme fatale bit and Rhonda Fleming makes a good-looking but unconvincing adulteress. Barrymore overplays as usual. The only surprise and only performance to make any impression is Vincent Price as a callow newspaper heir.

Amazingly, after Moonfleet which is superlatively composed, Lang handles the wide screen very flaccidly, the loose framing matching the lack of tautness in the plot. Most of the lighting is flat too, though an occasional shot of rich contrast shows what the film might have been had Lang been at the top of his form. Production values are also no more than average, with the same unattractive sets being used again and again. Music and other technical credits are equally undistinguished.
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