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While the City Sleeps (1956 film)

While the City Sleeps is a 1956 film noir directed by Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, John Drew Barrymore and Ida Lupino. 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.[1] Five decades after the film's release, critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "Fritz Lang ('M') directs his most under-appreciated great film, more a social commentary than a straight crime drama."[2]

While the City Sleeps
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFritz Lang
Produced byBert E. Friedlob
Screenplay byCasey Robinson
Based onthe novel The Bloody Spur
by Charles Einstein
StarringDana Andrews
Rhonda Fleming
George Sanders
John Drew Barrymore
Ida Lupino
Music byHerschel Burke Gilbert
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byGene Fowler Jr.
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • May 16, 1956 (1956-05-16) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film opens with a vicious killer attacking an innocent woman in her apartment.

The scene switches over to the old man, Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), media mogul, who is on his death bed talking to Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), the TV anchorman for Kyne Inc. The discussion entails what will happen to the media empire after Kyne's death with Mobley turning the top job down more than once. Mobley informs the old man that he is about to go on the air live in four minutes and walks over to a TV set in the room and turns it on, still talking to the old man who doesn’t answer. Mobley looks back and sees Kyne, propped up and slumped over dead.

After Kyne's death, the corporation goes to his son, Walter Kyne (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 Killer". 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 Mobley, who doesn't want to get involved with it. Wire-service chief Loving manipulates star writer Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino) to cozy up to and get information out of Mobley. Television chief 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 confidante 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 using Nancy as the bait with Mobley taunting the Lipstick Killer (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 building without each other knowing it, because Dorothy discreetly rents there to have an affair with Honest Harry Kritzer.

The Lipstick Killer 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 Mrs. Kyne screaming. The killer runs away and a chase unfolds with the police catching him as he screams, "No! No!..."

In all the commotion, everyone finds out about Dorothy’s secret apartment and adulterous affair. 'Honest' Harry Kritzer wins the job because of the threat of blackmail against Kyne. As Mobley and Griffith discuss the aftermath of these events in a bar, Mobley announces that he has resigned. Kyne comes in and Mobley tells him what he thinks of him.

The film ends with Mobley and Nancy having gotten married and learning in a local paper of an unexpected shakeup in the Kyne organization, which includes a job offer for Mobley. The happy couple kiss, ignoring a ringing telephone.



The film was based on the Charles Einstein novel Bloody Spur which had been optioned by the producer Bert Fiedlob.[3] The script was originally known as News is Made at Night.[4] It was made for United Artists.[5]

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.[6]


On its release, film critic Abe Weiler 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."[7]

Decades after the film's release, it continues to attract critical attention. 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."[8] Emanuel Levy wrote in 2019, "One of Fritz Lang’s best noir crime films of the 1950s, 'While the City Sleeps' is significant film in anticipating future trends of the genre."[9]

Home mediaEdit

Unavailable on home video for many years following a VHS release in the 1990s, in 2010 While the City Sleeps became available on DVD in the UK by Exposure Cinema. In 2011 it was released in the U.S. on DVD-R by the Warner Archive Collection (WAC). Internet review site DVD Beaver compared these 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 reviewer, Gary Tooze, also states that "There are no extras, not even the trailer that is available on [the] Exposure disc". The Exposure Cinema release is open-matte, while the Warner Archive release is in Superscope. Warner Archive released a region-free Blu-ray on March 13, 2018, about which Tooze concludes, "I love the film, but the HD - superior in quality - is a part of an underwhelming package - yet we must own it with no signs of a more complete Blu-ray release in the future, unless it comes from the UK or France."[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ While the City Sleeps at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ Schwartz, Dennis (March 2, 2005). "While the City Sleeps".
  3. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (April 28, 1955). "Rhonda Fleming Signs for Movie". New York Times.
  4. ^ Schallert, E. (September 13, 1955). "'Brave one' find wanted as nazi hostage; gerard philipe bergman lead". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (May 10, 1955). "Warners to Film Air Force Story". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (January 4, 1956). "Drama". The Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Weiler, Abe (May 17, 1956). "Newspaper Story". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Jenkins, Steve (2011). "While the City Sleeps". In Pym, John (ed.). Time Out Film Guide (19 ed.). Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  9. ^ Levy, Emanuel (July 21, 2019). "While the City Sleeps".
  10. ^ Tooze, Gary. "While the City Sleeps". DVD Beaver. Retrieved July 21, 2019.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit