Friday, April 17, 2015

SW Watches: While the City Sleeps (1956)

I DVR'd While the City Sleeps (1956) off of TCM because I saw it starred Rhonda Fleming and Ida Lupino, and that Dana Andrews is no slouch.  But I like Lupino in particular, and while her part is not gigantic in this movie, as always, she nails it.  And, hey, it also features Vincent Price in another playboy-layabout role, because that's more or less what he always did until he got recast as the master of horror.

Also, turns out this was directed by the always terrific Fritz Lang, and was one of his final projects as a director.

Rhonda Fleming = Production Value

There are men in hats, sultry dames (the aforementioned Lupino and Fleming), a killer on the loose - but it's hard to say this is noir.  I'll tag it as such because I'm lazy, it was directed by Lang when he was directing noir, and someone will tell me later I was wrong if I don't, but it's much more of a throwback picture to the big media/ newspaper pictures of 15 years prior.

The movie begins with a young psychopath murdering a woman in her NYC apartment, and, unsatisfied that strangling her wasn't creepy enough, he writes "Ask Mother" above her body in lipstick.  Most of the rest of the movie is about the newsroom of the fictional Daily Sentinel, part of the Kyne Media conglomerate, overseen by an old-school media baron who promptly dies, leaving his worthless son, played by (of course) Vincent Price, to take the reigns.

Price puts up a contest between the three heads of the various wings of the Kyne organization - whomever gets the killer will get to become the Executive Director of the empire.  Dana Andrews is a star reporter turned TV personality who helps out one of his pals and gets on the case.

All in all, it's not my favorite Lang movie, but it's got that great pacing and frenetic energy of both the hunt for the killer and the competition for the position.  And, of course, everyone's playing everyone else.

Fritz Lang wears the patch to keep from getting blinded by Lupino's sultriness

It's not going to crack my top four favorite Fritz Lang movies, but it's certainly better than it had to be.  You can feel the strength of his directing in what could have been a fluffier, duller movie, and the strength of the cast doesn't hurt it at all.  The story does get knee-capped a bit by the moral requirements of a 1950's Code era movie, and I suspect this would be very different in the MPAA ratings era.

There's no small amount of moral ambiguity right up to that tacked on ending, and nobody really comes up clean.  These are power players in the news game (back when that meant something), and they're all scrambling for gold even as a killer is on the loose.  Hell, Dana Andrews puts his engagement in the paper for the purpose of using his fiancee as bait for the killer.  And then makes out with Ida Lupino.

The movie brushes up against the edge of one of the social ills of the 1950's - Juvenile Delinquency.  Our killer is an echo of the all-too-real Brooklyn Thrill Killers, a bunch of kids who, for no particular reason, killed and injured a bunch of people in Brooklyn in the early 50's.  At the time, rock'n'roll, comic books and other things their parents might not have had were blamed for the delinquency, and Frederic Wertham drummed up all sorts of press off blaming the murders and other forms of delinquency on comics.  The movie sort of lays out the murderer as a perfect storm of comics, an overly indulgent mother and seeing too many Marlon Brando movies leading to want to choke Rhonda Fleming for some reason.      

Anyway, it's a fun newspaper movie, and it was worth checking out.  Maybe not the world's best picture or required viewing, but I've seen worse.

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