While the City Sleeps (1956): Fritz Lang’s Crime Noir, with All-Star Cast

One of Fritz Lang’s best noir crime features of the 1950, While the City Sleeps is significant film in anticipating future trends of the genre.

The narrative consists of two interrelated subplots. On the surface there’s a more conventional thriller, albeit one that identifies the pathological sex killer too early in the proceedings. But then there’s a more interesting tale that concerns the emergence of a new type of forceful bureaucracy, a conglomerate that combines newspapers, wire services, photos, and even TV.

Three different types of journalists—and male personalities—vie for the powerful position of editor-in-chief of a New York tabloid called, “The Sentinel.” The need becomes urgent, when the newspaper’s owner, Robert Warwick, dies, and his son  Walter (Vincent Price) takes charge.
In his first meetings, Walter comes across as arrogant and insecure, dilettante and incompetent, obviously suffering from an inferiority complex, compared with authoritative father, who commands up to the last moment, at his death bed.
The power conflicts among the reporters are set against a threatening social context in which the city is terrorized by a demented murderer, who becomes known as “the Lipstick Killer” (played by John Drew Barrymore).
John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), the city editor, enlists the help of his friend-reporter, Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), who’s close friends with the cop who investigates the case.
Mark Loving (George Sanders), the wire service editor, (ab) uses the services his mistress, Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), who’s also a reporter, to get information from Mobley.
Harry Kritzer (James Craig), the photo editor, manipulates Kyne’s wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), who’s in love with him.
In short, all three men are ambitious, using women and other people to get the desirable position, never for a second bothering about such “trivial” issued of ethics and morals. In this respect, Lang is at his most cynical, emphasizing the fine line between the “straight” institutional world of publishing and the “deviant world in which the killer is operating.
Made four years before “Psycho” and Norman Bates, or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the film’s murderer is depicted as a “Mama’s Boy,” a character that would become prevalent in the late 1950s and 1960s.  In an early scene, the murderer accuses his mother for never wanting a boy, and for being treated as a ‘little girl” by her and the neighbors.
Stereotyping also applies to the characters played by Dana Andrews and Howard Duff, who have been friends since childhood, when they went to school together. This explains why they are dressed alike, and often look and act alike.
Most of the professional characters are dressed in elegant suits, in contrast to the murderer, who sports a black leather jacket and uniform cap, which is meant to underline his lower social class.
Steering clear of the more splashy stylistic devices that had marked his earlier work (and the vocabulary of film noir), Fritz Lang directs with an assured if simpler hand.  His visual strategy, executed by the brilliant lenser Ernest Laszlo, lends the film precision and clarity that make its watching an extremely pleasurable experience, even if the outcome if predictable.
Cast
            Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews)
            Dorothy Kyne (Rhonda Fleming)
            Nancy Ligget (Sally Forrest)
            John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell)
            Walter Kyne (Vincent Price)
            Lt. Burt Kaufman (Howard Duff
            Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino)
            Mark Loving (George Sanders)
            Harry Kritzer (James Craig)
            Robert Manners (John Drew Barrymore)
Credits:
Produced by Bert E. Friedlob
Directed by Fritz Lang
 Screenplay; Casey Robinson, based on the novel The Blood Spur by Charles Einstein
Camera: Ernest Laszlo
Editor: Gene Fowler, Jr.
Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Art director: Carroll Clark
Costumes: Norma
Black-and-white
Running time: 100 Minutes