City That Never Sleeps

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City That Never Sleeps
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John H. Auer
Produced by John H. Auer
Screenplay by Steve Fisher
Starring Gig Young
Mala Powers
William Talman
Edward Arnold
Chill Wills
Marie Windsor
Paula Raymond
Music by R. Dale Butts
Cinematography John L. Russell
Edited by Fred Allen
Republic Pictures
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release date
  • June 12, 1953 (1953-06-12) (United States)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English

City That Never Sleeps is a 1953 American film noir crime film directed by John H. Auer and starring Gig Young, Mala Powers, William Talman, Edward Arnold, Chill Wills, Marie Windsor, and Paula Raymond, with cinematography by John L. Russell.[1]


Johnny Kelly (Gig Young) is a Chicago cop whose father is also a police officer. He's grown tired of the job and his married life to Kathy (Paula Raymond). Haunted by echoes of his mother-in-law's scolding voice, he plans to leave his job and his wife to run away to California with exotic dancer Sally "Angel Face" Connors (Mala Powers).

That night, Johnny begins his night shift with his older partner, Joe, who is proud of being a policeman. Johnny stops in at Sally's club, to tell her that he is not ready to leave for California. Sally is angry and breaks it off. Also in love with Sally is club entertainer Gregg, who mimics a "mechanical man" in the window of the club to draw people in.

Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold), a corrupt, powerful attorney, wants to recruit Johnny to arrest and "escort" a low-life former magician and current Biddel protége, Hayes Stewart (William Talman), across the border to Indiana, where there is a warrant for his arrest. Biddel, knowing Stewart's plans to break into his safe to find documents with which to blackmail him, wishes to teach Stewart a lesson about loyalty, after which he plans to get him out of prison. Johnny doesn't want to do the job while still officially a cop, but Biddel compels him by revealing that Stubby, Johnny's brother, has become Stewart's protége, and will be with him for the break-in.

Stewart, with an enthusiastic Stubby driving, goes to Biddel's office. However, on breaking into the safe, he finds only a note from Biddel, taunting him for his foolishness. Stewart later contronts Biddel, telling him that he has gotten the documents anyway, out of his bedroom safe, revealing that Biddel's younger, beautiful wife Lydia is his accomplice. Stewart also finds out Biddel's plans for him regarding Johnny, and realizes this is a good way to get out of town – escorted by a cop. He shoots Biddel in front of Lydia, and then kills Lydia as well. This second act is, however, witnessed by the mechanical man, Gregg, in his window, and Stewart later realizes that he doesn't know if he is a real man or not.

Johnny's wife, Kathy, goes to her father-in-law, worried about Johnny. She might quit her job to try to make Johnny happier at home, as she is making more money than Johnny and thinks it must hurt his pride. Johnny's father agrees.

In the meantime, a call for Stewart's arrest has gone out over the police radio. Stewart goes to meet Johnny, but mistakenly finds John Kelly Sr., Johnny's father, a 27-year veteran of the force, who tries to arrest him. Stewart kills Johnny's father in his escape.

When Gregg realizes all that has happened, he offers to go back into his window to draw Stewart out. Sally sees his bravery and integrity in this act, and she tells him from the side curtain that she understands him now, and confesses her love. Gregg sheds tears at this.

Stewart is outside, trying to determine if Gregg is real or not, when a woman watching Gregg in the club window notices tears rolling down his face at Sally's confession of love, and says so. Stewart hears and opens fire. Gregg is wounded but not killed. Johnny pursues Stewart through the dark streets of Chicago. Stewart runs onto the "El" (elevated) tracks. They begin fighting, and struggle until Stewart falls onto the highly electrified third rail, and then falls from the El and is killed.

Johnny decides to stay on the job, with Kathy by his side. Johnny also discovers that Joe has not come in that night.



Critical response[edit]

Film critic Craig Butler wrote, "City That Never Sleeps is an uneven crime drama, one that contains enough good elements that it's frustrating the film as a whole is not better. The chief culprit is, as so often, the screenplay, which starts out promisingly. Gig Young's character seems to be one that is fairly complex, a cop who is dissatisfied with his lot in life and could fall prey to temptation. Unfortunately, the character is not developed sufficiently beyond that, which is also the case with the Wally Cassell "mechanical man" character; he, too, shows promise that goes unfulfilled, although the sheer strangeness of his job does fascinate.[2]

The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a mixed review, and wrote, "Production and direction loses itself occasionally in stretching for mood and nuances, whereas a straightline cops-and-robbers action flavor would have been more appropriate. Same flaw is found in the Steve Fisher screen original...John L. Russell's photography makes okay use of Chicago streets and buildings for the low-key, night-life effect required to back the melodrama.[3]

In his Aug. 8, 1953 review in The New York Times, critic Howard Thompson called it a "routine crime melodrama," but singled out Wally Cassell's brief role as "truly fantastic" and William Talman as the cast's standout, "a truly fine performer."

21st Century Critical Reassessment[edit]

On February 3, 2018, director Martin Scorsese introduced a newly restored print of City That Never Sleeps as the opening film of a 30 movie retrospective of restored Republic Pictures that Scorsese curated to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, citing the picture's blazing energy and brilliant creativity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ City That Never Sleeps on IMDb .
  2. ^ Butler, Craig. Film review at City That Never Sleeps at AllMovie. Last accessed: November 26, 2009.
  3. ^ Variety. Film review, August 7, 1953. Last accessed: November 26, 2009.

External links[edit]