Thursday, October 17, 2013

While the City Sleeps

A couple of weeks back, I mentioned that While the City Sleeps would be coming up twice on TCM in October, with the second time being on October 17 as part of Vincent Price's turn as Star of the Month. Well, October 17 is here, and so it's on again tonight at 8:00 PM.

Vincent Price isn't actually the star of the movie; he's billed behind several other players starting with Dana Andrews, who really is the star in addition to being top-billed. Andrews playd Edward Mobley, a TV jounralist with a nightly commentary on a TV station owned by magnate Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick). Mobley is one of Kyne's favorites in a sprawling organization that includes not only the TV station, but also newspapers, a wire service, and a tabloid photo service. And the Kyne organization is going to need all of those: there's a killer on the loose, and Amos wants Mobley to use the various branches of the Kyne news services to find that killer. Or, at least, that's Amos' plan for Mobley, whom he wants to become the managing director of the whole organization eventually. Unfortunately, things don't work out that way: Amos is a sick man, and he drops dead before Mobley can put any of his plans into motion.

It's at this point that Vincent Price comes in. He plays Walter Kyne, Amos' son, who has spent his adult life doing everything but learning the family business. However, Amos' will bequeathed the business to his son, and so Walter owns the joint now. And he's got much different ideas than his father. He doesn't know anything about who should be managing director, so he comes up with a deviously brilliant idea: set the various divisions of the Kyne organization against each other as they try to solve the murder mystery, which by this point has been dubbed the "Lipstick Killer". The head of whichever branch solves the mystery is the man who will get the big job of managing director.

With this, the varoius grasping candidates are set against one another: John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) is the editor of the Sentinel newspaper; Mark Loving (George Sanders) is in charge of the wire service; and Harry Kritzer (James Craig) runs the photo service. Mobley is seemingly left out of the running for the top job, but Mobley seems OK with that. The three division heads are all more than willing to resort to underhanded methods, most of which involve the various women in and around the organization. For Loving, that involves his girlfriend, fashion columnist Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), who Loving hopes can get information unobtrusively because who would suspect a fashion columnist. Kritzer, for his part, tries to get his girlfriend Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming) to use her influence. The only problem is that Dorothy is Mrs. Walter Kyne. Mobley also has a girlfriend Nancy (Sally Liggett) who seems on the sidelines, but Ed turns out to be perhaps the most amoral of all the characters, as he realizes he can catch the Lipstick Killer by using his girlfriend as bait!

While the City Sleeps is one cynical movie -- it's only too bad Lee Tracy doesn't get to show up. There aren't any virtuous, crusading Torchy Blanes here. There are a few flaws: if anything, I think the movie is a bit too unralistically cynical. There's also the continuity problem that a corporate empire as big as the own Amos Kyne built would be much too big for one building, and the various heads of the divisions wouldn't be working cheek-by-jowl. That, of course, would take away from all of the backstabbing and alliance-forming. But those are minor minuses. While the City Sleeps is more than outweighed by its plusses. Pretty much all of the male characters hae plausible motivations, and having the presumptive good guy Ed Mobley turn out to be just as amoral as the rest of them, only in pursuit of "journalism" instead of the top job, is an excellent plot point. The acting is good, with an heretofore unmentioned John Drew Barrymore deserving attention as the psychotic killer. (This doesn't give much away; the movie isn't so much about the mystery as to who can solve it and how theye can solve it.)

While the City Sleeps is another of the many movies that has been released to DVD by the Warner Archive Collection.

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