A killer is on the loose and smarmy media tycoon Vincent Price makes catching him the passport to a key job in his organisation… Ambitious rivals George Sanders and Thomas Mitchell are prepared to do almost anything, but both need the help of TV anchorman Dana Andrews…
Having established his noir credentials with the 1940’s films Ministry of Fear, Scarlet Street and The Woman in the Window, director Fritz Lang (the visionary behind the 1930s classics M and Metropolis) stepped back into the shadows for 1956’s pulp fiction While the City Sleeps, which had its US premiere in Pittsburgh on 9 May 1956 and in New York on 16 May 1956 before going on general release on 30 May.
While not as critically praised as his earlier films, this gritty neo-noir is now regarded as one of Lang’s most underrated movies, featuring a sterling cast, and some typically moody cinematography from noir legend Ernest Laszlo, as the director casts a cynical eye over the world of tabloid journalism.
That debonair prince of the sinister, Vincent Price, plays Walter Kyne, a waste of a man who starts a power struggle after inheriting his late father’s media empire. When young women in New York fall prey to a serial sex murderer dubbed The Lipstick Killer (John Barrymore Jr – aka Drew’s dad), Price’s slimy Kyne pits his newspaper editor (Mitchell), the head of the wire service (Sanders) and a news photographer (James Craig) against each other. Whoever scoops the Lipstick Killer story first wins a coveted top job.
If it was remade today, it would be like Mad Men meets The Apprentice, but this is the 1950s, so we have Laura’s Dana Andrews playing to type as a no-nonsense writer who uses the power of television to draw the killer out into the open, ending in a hair-raising chase through Manhattan’s subway tunnels.
More mystery than noir, While the City Sleeps is an entertaining drama in which the murder investigation takes second fiddle to the assorted shifty dealings in the office. Ida Lupino’s columnist, Rhonda Fleming’s adulterous wife and Sally Forrest’s secretary all have a share in the twisting plot and the way in which they become pawns in the male characters’ power games gives the story some of its most impressively sour moments.
In 2010, a digitally restored and remastered DVD was put out in the UK by Exposure Cinema and is a real treat for fans of noir, mystery and good, old-fashioned suspense.