Saturday, February 6, 2021

Movie Reviews: While The City Sleeps

While The City Sleeps
directed by Fritz Lang
This is a 1956 crime film noir directed by the famed Fritz Lang, who also helmed such films as M, Metropolis, and The Big Heat, among many many others. Although the film opens with a murder, which provides the surface basis for the story's events, in fact that's really something of a red herring. 
This movie is more concerned with the political and moral battles, internal and external, of a group of media conglomerate executives--think Fox News. There's also a fair amount of romance and sexual skulduggery. 
Although we may often think that women's film roles were always limited and stereotypical in Hollywood's Golden Age, actually the women in this film all have their own agency, get pretty good lines, don't take any stuff off anyone, and exude sex appeal without taking off their clothes. There are some modern directors who could learn from this. 
The film's point of view is that although men and women will often get on each other's last nerve, normal men and women like and need each other. This is in direct contrast to the murderer.
Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) is an elderly and ailing news mogul who leads the company he founded and which bears his name. His company has three divisions: television, newspaper, and wire service. As are many such men in his position, Amos is a hard charging Type A personality who doesn't take no for an answer. Amos demands that things be done the right way--his way.
Although he should be at home or in the hospital Amos has had his bed moved into his office so that he can continue to manage (and micromanage) his workers. 
There's a killer on the loose (John Drew Barrymore) who is targeting women and leaving Freudian messages in lipstick. Amos wants the killer found but in the meantime he wants his media to hype up the murders and scare everyone. Profits you know. Though he won't dwell on it, Amos knows his time is almost up. 
Amos wants his star TV anchor Ed Mobley (Dana Andrews) to take over leadership of everything after he's gone. Amos has asked Ed this more than once. Ed's refused him every time and does so again. Ed's not the most ambitious man on the planet. Ed also thinks it wouldn't be right to jump the line ahead of his boss and other senior execs.
Well Amos kicks the bucket right after his final conversation with Ed. Control over Kyne Enterprises goes to Walter Kyne (Vincent Price), Amos' dilettante son. The father and son never liked each other. Walter was the last man Amos wanted running his company. Walter doesn't know the business. 
But Walter knows that he's in over his head. So he creates a competition for a CEO position. The CEO will run everything and allow Walter to spend more time doing the do with his beautiful wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming). A hard worker, Walter is not. Walter says whoever solves the crime and/or gets the most and best publicity about the crime will get the job.
The three candidates for the new job are the three division heads. They are Harry Kritzer (James Craig), the television boss; Mark Loving (George Sanders), the extroverted chief of the wire service; and Jon Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), the paranoid top newspaper editor. None of these men lack for ambition. They are all keenly aware that at their age they might not have another chance at the brass ring. 
The men each call in every favor owed and attempt to make their underlings choose sides, including Ed and the intelligent, independent, flirtatious, and impertinent gossip columnist Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino). Mildred knows what goes where and why if you know what I mean. 
Again, Ed doesn't want to get involved. He's too busy falling in love with Loving's secretary Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest), another woman who has no problems speaking her mind. But over time everyone's got to choose sides as the murders continue. Ed grew up together with a man who is now a police detective. Each woman is just as important to the story as the male characters. It's an ensemble production.
This is not the most depressing or cutting noir film in the world. It's definitely at the lighter end of the spectrum. In some respects it's often comedic and even positive. Vincent Price is the epitome of a clueless boss. This movie has a very modern feel. It's something that could be remade but would likely be ruined by excessive violence or nudity. As mentioned, the film is more interested in corporate rivalries and male/female interplay than the serial killer. I enjoyed the oft witty dialogue.
Ed Mobley: You know, you have very nice legs.

Nancy Liggett: Aren't you sweet.

Ed Mobley: Nice stockings too. What holds your stockings up?

Nancy Liggett: There's a lot your mother should have told you.

Ed Mobley: I didn't ask my mother. I asked you.

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