Lang's finest film since THE BIG HEAT and his last great success, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS is a crime drama sending its lead actors on a twisted, dog-eat-dog journey into the underworld in their quest for success. The plot revolves around the aspirations of three newsmen--Mitchell, Sanders,
and Craig--each in line for the job of editor-in-chief of a New York tabloid called The Sentinel. Upon the death of newspaper owner Robert Warwick, his manipulative, dilettante son Price takes charge. The city is being terrorized by a sex murderer known as "The Lipstick Killer" (played with
conventional dementia by Barrymore), a mama's boy who preys on beautiful women at night. In a perverse power game, Price offers the newspaper's top position to the man who can crack the case. Naturally, Mitchell, Sanders, and Craig become rivals. Mitchell, a leathery, hard-drinking Irishman, is
clear about his motive--he needs the money that the position pays. Sanders, the head of the wire service, is a ruthless cad interested in the societal implications of being the boss. Photo-editor Craig tries to use his romantic link with Price's wife, Fleming, as his inroad to the top job,
spending more time wooing her than investigating the crime. To help achieve his goal, Mitchell bribes streetwise reporter Andrews for assistance. Each character's lack of moral values is soon made evident when they all employ the services of women to find the killer--risking the ladies' lives
instead of their own. Mitchell agrees to Andrews's plan to use Andrews's fiancee, Forrest, as a decoy for Barrymore. Sanders cons gutsy columnist Lupino into helping him secure information by seducing Andrews, while Craig continues working through Fleming and her influence over Price. Forrest is
nearly killed when Barrymore tries to enter her apartment. A climactic chase leads Andrews, hot on the trail of the pathetic killer, to the New York subway system. A battle ensues between him and Barrymore, eventually ending up on the subway tracks. The roar of a northbound train thunders closer,
while the lights of a southbound loom larger by the second. At the very last moment, Andrews is tossed past the oncoming train and lands safely, while Barrymore escapes up the stairs only to be apprehended by the police.
Although viewed rather narrow-mindedly by some as an unsuccessful thriller because Lang reveals the killer's identity too early, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS is clearly more than a thriller. Lang's interest is not in the killer's motivation and methods, but in the journalists' ruthless, morally guilty
minds. These are men who are entrusted to uphold society's morals and protect a community, yet they readily put other people in danger for their own benefit. This superbly constructed and multilayered film was Lang's second favorite film, following his 1936 US masterpiece, FURY. Produced
independently, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS was set for release by United Artists, though in the end it was distributed by RKO.
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: Lang's finest film since THE BIG HEAT and his last great success, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS is a crime drama sending its lead actors on a twisted, dog-eat-dog journey into the underworld in their quest for success. The plot revolves around the aspirations of t… (more)