Monday, August 6, 2018

City That Never Sleeps

Last month, TCM ran a night of "prestige" movies from Republic Pictures that aren't very well known. One of the night's offerings that's available on DVD is City that Never Sleeps, so I DVRed it and watched.

Chill Wills, who shows up later as an actual character, gives us an opening monologue about Chicago and everything that goes on in the city at night, also introducing us to the main characters. Among the things going on are the sorts of nightclubs where you get dancers like "Angel Face" (Mala Powers) as part of the stage show. She's the girlfriend of cop Johnny Kelly (Gig Young), except that Johnny actually has a wife in Kathy. Kathy makes more money than Johnny, which puts a strain on their relationship, especially because her mom reminds him of that fact. And Johnny never really wanted to be a cop anyway.

When he stops off at home between going to the club and to roll call for the night shift, Johnny gets a call from prominent lawyer Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold). Apparently Biddel isn't completely on the up-and-up, as he keeps important documents that he can use to blackmail people, aided in obtaining those documents by failed magician Hayes Stewart (William Talman). Biddel thinks Stewart is getting too big for his britches, so Biddel wants Johnny to catch Stewart in flagrante delicto and "extradite" him to Indiana, since if he goes straight to the police station he'll reveal what information he has on Biddel.

Johnny, for his part, is going to be willing to do this because Penrod has a lot of money for him for doing this job. Johnny wants the money because he's planning on leaving his wife, marrying Angel Face, and moving out to California to start a new wife. Yeah, that sort of plan seems real good, doesn't it.

Anyhow, before Johnny can get to Penrod to find that this is the plan, he has to go through roll call, where he finds out his regular partner is sick, and he's going to work with an old guy he doesn't know called Sgt. Joe (that's Chill Wills). This Sgt. Joe seems reminiscent of Spencer Tracy's Joe in A Guy Named Joe, in that he winds up being almost a sort of guardian angel for Johnny in that he's impossibly virtuous.

Things take a twist, however, when Stewart decides to rob Biddel's safe earlier than Biddel was expecting it, so while Johnny and Sgt. Joe are the ones who get the call to go to the office building, they're not going to be able to catch Stewart. Worse is that Johnny doesn't know Stewart has a protégé in the form of Johnny's kid brother Stubby.

Ah, but there are more twists, in that Stewart cracks the office safe, only to find out that the document he's looking for isn't there, and that Biddel has hidden it somewhere else. This is only one more in a series of twists that's ultimately going to involve murder, another boyfriend for Angel Face, and Johnny's decision of whether he wants to remain a cop after all.

City That Never Sleeps has a pretty good story at the heart of it, although I have to admit that I didn't care for the Sgt. Joe character or the general cop worship that was such a common theme for movies of the time thanks to the Production Code. I've rarely found Gig Young to be particularly noticeable in the movies he's in, and he does a capable job here but nothing spectacular. Edward Arnold is also quite workmanlike, while Talman is probably the most interesting character. Marie Windsor gets one scene as Mrs. Biddel. The one thing that really does help the movie is that it was shot on location and not a backlot, which gives the whole thing much more vitality.

On the whole, City That Never Sleeps is a worthwhile watch, although it feels like a whole bunch of movies that are good, but not quite great.

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