Wednesday, 28 December 2011

While the City Sleeps

Lang's penultimate American film, While the City Sleeps (1956) is most interesting for its portrayal of the media. In the rum plot,  three media executives compete for the top job in 'Kyne' News through their coverage of the 'Lipstick Killer'. Main man Ed Moberley (Dana Andrews) is a journo who stays aloof, drinks a lot, chases his girl, and - the weakest bit plotwise - uses her as bait for the killer. The cynicism of the news operation is appealing, though watered down by the basically decent Dana Andrews character. There is fitful interest in the killer's motives (his identity is never a mystery) with some psychobabble ('You're a mamma's boy' in a provocative broadcast) along the way. (Surely the police could have caught him quite easily, though, based on the eyewitness evidence of the first scene?) By this stage in his career, Lang seems to be less interested in noir effects: the visual style is quite flat, bare and geometric. But there are intriguing continuities from the Art Deco of Metropolis and Spione to these simple desks and undecorated office spaces. The 'Kyne' logo appears at least once, its huge 'K' perhaps alluding to Kane, while also reminding us of 'M', Lang's early masterpiece, also about a city killer.

While the City Sleeps is a mixed genre affair, getting into the social criticism movies of the fifties. The way the eventual winner gets the trophy is thrillingly cynical, and the casual adultery and implied sex seems daring for the period. It doesn't have the deep satirical tone of Sweet Smell of Success or The Front Page partly because the romance element softens the edges. While the final chase is oddly uninvolving, the image of Vincent Price (the incompetent but canny young Kyne)  playing golf in his apartment while deciding who will do his job for him is sharp and memorable. His apparent development of a conscience at the end is an unrealistic touch one has to forgive.