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 date
  • 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]


The movie opens with a vicious killer attacking an innocent woman in her apartment. The scene switches over to the old man, Amos Kyne, played by Robert Warwick, who is on his death bed talking to the star of the movie, Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews) the anchorman for Kyne Inc. The discussion entails what will happen to the media empire after Amos's death with Mobley turning the top job down more than once. Mobley informs the old man that he is about to go on live in four minutes and walks over to the TV set turning it on, still talking to the old man who doesn’t answer. Mobley looks around and sees Amos, propped up and slumped over dead.

After Amos's death, the corporation goes to his son, Walter (Vincent Price), who because of resentment against his father, has never been involved in the family business.

Due to his lack of knowledge and rather than take on all the work at the top all by himself, Walter Kyne challenges the men in charge of Kyne's three divisions, Mark Loving (George Sanders) Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) and 'Honest' Harry Kritzer (James Craig), to solve and catch the serial killer who has been dubbed the "Lipstick murderer". Whoever does this will get the new second in command job as Executive Director.

This new job is a very lucrative prize and in order to secure it, Jon Day Griffith, attempts to ally with Edward Mobley, who doesn't want to get involved with it. Wire-service chief, Mark Loving manipulates star writer, Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino) to cozy up to and get information out of Mobley. Television chief Harry Kritzer, uses a different method by having a secret affair with Walter Kyne's wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming) in order to use her as his confidant and aid by sweet talking her husband in his behalf.

Mobley becomes engaged to Loving's secretary, Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest) and receives inside information from his police friend, Lt. Kaufman (Howard Duff). The three decide to set a trap by and use Nancy as the bait with Mobley taunting the Lipstick murderer (John Drew Barrymore) on TV in order to bring him out into the open.

As coincidence would have it, Nancy Liggett and Dorothy Kyne, live across the hall from each other on the second floor in the same apartment without each other knowing it, because Dorothy discreetly rents there to have an affair with Honest Harry. The Lipstick Murderer follows Nancy to her apartment to attack her, but fails to gain entrance. Mrs. Kyne happens to arrive just then and enters her apartment which the killer takes advantage of and succeeds in attacking her. She fights him off and runs out into Nancy’s apartment who opens her door when she heard Dorothy screaming. The killer runs away and the story unfolds with the police catching the him as he screams, no! No!... In all the commotion, everyone found out about Dorothy’s secret apartment and adulterous affair. 'Honest' Harry Kritzer wins the job because of the implication of blackmail against Walter without really going into detail, though we are led to believe that Walter didn’t want a scandal so he gave Harry the job. Besides that, Mobley ends up saying; “...who ends up on top? Honest Harry Kritzer, because all the time, he’s been playing footsie with Walter’s wife... Harry Kritzer gets the job, Walter Kyne gets his wife back, and Mildred Donner ends up with a syndicated column” Mobley then goes on to resign and marries Nancy. The movie ends in an appropriately old fashioned way with Dana Andrews and Sally Forrest on their honeymoon kissing while the telephone is ringing.



The film was based on the Charles Einstein novel "Bloody Spur" 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]


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 (WAC) 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. WAC announced that they will release a new 1080p HD remaster of the film on Blu-ray in March 2018.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ While the City Sleeps at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special 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 PRYOR Special 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.
  8. ^ "Warner Archive Collection Facebook". Facebook.com. 

External links[edit]