Monday, November 20, 2017

While the City Sleeps (1956)

Who's In It: Dana Andrews (Laura, Night of the Demon), Rhonda Fleming (Spellbound, Out of the Past), George Sanders (Foreign Correspondent, Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake), Thomas Mitchell (Stagecoach, The Outlaw), Vincent Price (His Kind of Woman, House of Wax), Sally Forrest (Son of Sinbad), John Drew Barrymore (Drew Barrymore's dad), and Ida Lupino (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

What It's About: The heads (including Sanders and Mitchell) of three branches of a media empire compete to catch a serial killer (Barrymore) in order to impress their new boss (Price) and win the top spot in his reorganization.

How It Is: I love how complicated the movie is. Like how the general plot description above doesn't even include the main characters, Ed (Andrews) and his girlfriend Nancy (Forrest). Ed is a TV news commentator in the same media company that the others work for, but he doesn't want the new position for himself and throws his connections and investigative skills behind his friend Jon Day Griffith (Mitchell). Unfortunately for Nancy (who works for George Sanders' character, Mark Loving), part of Ed's plan is using her as bait for the serial killer. And if that's not betrayal enough, Ed's not exactly resistant when Loving throws his own girlfriend, columnist Mildred Donner (Lupino) at Ed. So there are multiple dramas playing out at the same time: who'll get the top spot, will the killer be stopped, can Ed and Nancy's relationship survive it all, and do I even want it to?

Noir is all about flawed characters, but there's flawed and then there's butthead, and Ed falls into the latter category. He asks Nancy's permission to use her in his trap, but he does it after he's already planted the bait for the killer to see. And after he drunkenly makes out with Mildred, he plays the victim when Nancy gets upset. Sally Forrest is lovely in the role though and I believe that Nancy is smitten with Ed, so I end up rooting for them to work it out. But it's a struggle.

The rest of the film is super compelling and strong, though, with great performances all around. Rhonda Fleming is a standout as Vincent Price's wife (who's having an affair with one of the candidates and scheming to have him win the job) and Price once again solidifies my position that film noir Price is better than horror Price.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 intrepid reporters.

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