Oct 211956
two reels

A serial killer is targeting young women and Walter Kyne (Vincent Price), the immature son of a just-deceased media mogul, decides whichever of his underlings can find the killer can become the new man in charge. The three candidates are Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), the newpaper editor, Mark Loving (George Sanders), head of the wire service, and Harry Kritzer (James Craig), who doesn’t seem to do much of anything other than sleep with Kyne’s wife (Rhonda Fleming). Edward Mobley (Dana Andrew), the ex-star reporter and TV host, has taken himself out of the running as he doesn’t seem much interested in the reporting game any more—for no reason ever explained. Griffith asks for his help and Mobley agrees, digging in with his old police buddy, Lt. Kaufmann (Howard Duff). The two of them come up with a plan, using Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest), Mobley’s fiancée who is also Loving’s secretary, as bait. Loving has a bit of help himself in the form of sexy women’s interest columnist, Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino).

Yes, Fritz Lang (M, Scarlet Street, The Woman in the Window) is the director and there are murders and a majority of the people aren’t pure as the driven snow, but if While the City Sleeps is Film Noir, it is the lightest of the type. There’s no feeling of evil in the air and for all the talk of the reporters being willing to do anything, it’s more that they are willing to be a little rude. Mildred does a bit of seducing, but it is pretty PG. The rest just hold back stories from each other for a few minutes. This isn’t gazing into the dark souls of humanity. It’s noticing that people can be sorta petty.

Mobley is supposed to be the hero. Except for his carelessness with his fiancĂ©e, he isn’t strongly likable or dis-likable and I couldn’t whip up much enthusiasm for his detective work. Beyond his personality, it isn’t surprising as the viewer knows who the killer is. The film wants me to be sympathetic to Mobley, support Griffith, and oppose Loving, but I can’t figure why. No reason is ever given on why Loving wouldn’t make a good boss, or as good a one as Griffith. Either way, I didn’t care. I’m also supposed to care if Mobley can patch things up with Nancy, but I didn’t care about that either.

That’s not saying the film is bad. This just isn’t tense Noir material. The newspaper politics is fluffy drama and could have been presented as comedy with about ten minutes of re-writes and a few broader performances (although not much broader—they aren’t subtle now). I suspect it would have worked better as a His Girl Friday-type comedy.

The material with the serial killer isn’t Noir either, but it is much heavier and doesn’t fit well with the rest of the film. It is approaching horror, and comparisons with Psycho have been made. John Drew Barrymore—son of John Berrymore and father of Drew Barrymore—is believable as the crazed and maladjusted killer. Like the newspaper plot, this storyline isn’t bad; it just belongs in a different movie.

There’s some light fun to be had from the actors and dialog. Lang doesn’t add much (you’d never know he directed Metropolis) and you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that some journeyman was at the helm, but there is nothing particularly wrong with his direction. And that’s the review in a nutshell. There’s nothing particularly wrong with While the City Sleeps.

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