While the City Sleeps (1956 film)

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While the City Sleeps
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Bert E. Friedlob
Screenplay by Casey Robinson
Based on the novel The Bloody Spur 
by Charles Einstein
Starring Dana Andrews
Rhonda Fleming
George Sanders
John Drew Barrymore
Ida Lupino
Music by Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Gene Fowler Jr.
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • May 16, 1956 (1956-05-16) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

While the City Sleeps is a 1956 film noir directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Casey Robinson, the newspaper drama was based on The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein, which depicts the story of "Lipstick Killer" William Heirens. The film features Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, John Drew Barrymore and Ida Lupino.[1]


A power struggle ensues after the death of media magnate Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), who turned his corporation over to his sole heir, foppish son Walter (Vincent Price). Rather than run the company himself, Walter decides to let the heads of its three divisions fight it out. Their assignment is to score an exclusive story on a serial killer terrorizing women in New York City the Kyne organization's newspaper dubs "The Lipstick Killer". Whoever identifies him before the police will be rewarded the title of Executive Director.

One of the three, newspaper editor Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), has an ally in high-profile Kyne reporter and television personality Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews). While wire-service chief Mark Loving (George Sanders) recruits star writer Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino) as eyes and ears, a third contender, Harry Kritzer (James Craig), carries on a secret affair with Walter Kyne's wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming).

Mobley becomes engaged to Loving's secretary, Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest). Receiving inside information from his police friend Lt. Kaufman (Howard Duff), Mobley taunts the killer on TV using Nancy as bait.

In the end, the lives of Nancy and Dorothy, who live across the hall from one another (since Dorothy happens to rent a discreet apartment in the same building to be able to carry out the affair with Harry), are placed in serious danger. While one of the three contenders for the Executive Director's job wins the contest, another has a surprise in store.



The film was based on the Charles Einstein novel "Bloody Spurt" which had been optioned by the producer Bert Fiedlob.[2] The script was originally known as News is Made at Night.[3] It was made for United Artists.[4]

The city in the film is supposed to be New York, but the film was shot in Los Angeles. In so doing, they used the Pacific Electric Belmont trolley tunnel under downtown LA and interurban cars with steps and trolley poles to represent the heavyweight cars of the New York City Subway rolling stock, which are drastically different in appearance.

Several props—some of which featured a large K in a circle—were recycled from Citizen Kane, which RKO had made 15 years earlier, and may have prompted the use of the name "Kyne."

The film was reportedly sold outright to RKO for a profit of $500,000.[5]


Critical response[edit]

Film critic Bosley Crowther liked the film, especially the acting. He wrote: "Since it is full of sound and fury, murder, sacred and profane love and a fair quota of intramural intrigue, a viewer is left wondering if the tycoons of the giant Kyne publishing combine ever bother to cover such mundane stories as the weather. But while this journalistic jamboree is more flamboyant than probable, a tight and sophisticated script by Casey Robinson and a clutch of professional performances make While the City Sleeps a diverting and workmanlike fiction."[6]

Time Out film reviews wrote of the film, "Lang makes inspired use of glass-walled offices, where all is seen and nothing revealed, and traces explicit parallels between Andrews and the murderer. Lang's most underrated movie."[7]

Home media[edit]

Unavailable on home video since a VHS release in the 1990s, While the City Sleeps is now available on DVD in the UK by Exposure Cinema, and in the U.S. from the Warner Archive Collection on DVD-R. Internet review site DVD Beaver compares releases, citing the Exposure release as superior due to the Warner Archive release being "Single-layered and significantly softer. It also has some brightness boosting." The review also states that "There are no extras, not even the trailer that is available on Exposure disc". The Exposure Cinema release is open-matte, while the Warner Archive release is in Superscope.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ While the City Sleeps at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. ^ By THOMAS M PRYORSpecial to The New,York Times. (1955, Apr 28). RHONDA FLEMING SIGNS FOR MOVIE. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/113278629
  3. ^ Schallert, E. (1955, Sep 13). 'Brave one' find wanted as nazi hostage; gerard philipe bergman lead. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/166861563
  4. ^ By THOMAS M PRYORSpecial to The New,York Times. (1955, May 10). WARNERS TO FILM AIR FORCE STORY. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/113413643
  5. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (1956, Jan 04). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/166908548
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley, The New York Times, film review, May 17, 1956. Accessed: August 6, 2013.
  7. ^ Time Out. Film reviews, 2008. Last accessed: February 7, 2008.

External links[edit]