Monday, February 15, 2010

DVD MIA #3: While the City Sleeps

US, 1956. Directed by Fritz Lang. Starring Dana Andrews, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, Vincent Price, Howard Duff.

I don't think While the City Sleeps is the best of Fritz Lang's American films (The Big Heat almost certainly holds that title), but it may be my favourite - it's certainly the most entertaining. It`s a sly, funny and suspenseful tale set at a news syndicate while a series of sex murders is going on in the big city. The man who founded the empire has died, leaving the works to his useless son (Vincent Price). The only man dad thought worthy of the job was the resident editoralist and TV news anchor (Dana Andrews), who has no interest in such a job, since he routinely fires off bestselling books and receives Pulitzers where he is. So Junior decides to pit three veteran department heads - wire service man George Sanders, newspaper editor Thomas Mitchell, art department head James Craig - against each other for a coveted managing director position, little suspecting Craig is sleeping with his wife (Rhonda Fleming at her va-va-voomiest). The contest: whichever department head can unmask the sex killer first gets the job.

Sanders and Mitchell immediately try to convert Andrews to their causes, using two women - Sanders`mistress, gossip columnist Ida Lupino, and his secretary, Andrews`potential fiancee, Sally Forrest.

Anyone who enjoys vintage Hollywood movies should get a jones for this movie just looking at that cast, and I`m happy to report that Lang and the scenario use them all to marvelous effect. Ever the perceptive social critic, Lang is fascinated by how the various players used the police and other peoples lives purely for the advancement not even of their common employer`s cause, but their own selfish ends. Craig doesn`t even actively pursue the job, preferring the let Sanders and Mitchell cancel each other out and just gets it on with Fleming in the meantime. Andrews, on the surface the most respectable of the bunch, thinks nothing of putting his fiancee out as bait for the sex killer, figuring the end justifies the means.

The dialogue is witty and acidic, the suspense sequences solid, even if the actions that initiate the murderer`s ultimate capture ring a bit false. Why this isn`t on DVD is beyond me, so if it pops up on TV or you find an old tape of it, I highly recommend you seize the opportunity.

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