Plot: What’s it about?
Warner Bros Archive Collection recently brought two Fritz Lang films to Blu-ray, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and While The City Sleeps. These were the last two films that Fritz Lang would make in America and fulfilled his contract with RKO Radio Pictures. I watched both this week so I could do a cross comparison and because I wanted to see both of them.
The film begins with a drug store delivery man in a dark jacket and hat arriving at the door of a 23 year old woman. She was just about to hop in the bath and her janitor was leaving her place. Seeing her in a bathrobe, the delivery man gets excited. The delivery man presses in the lock on her door so that it does not lock when she closes the door. As she approaches the bath she turns and as the camera zooms in she screams. The next day, at a news conglomerate in town, the main boss asks for his men to run the story as their lead story – focusing on the Lipstick Killer due to the writing in lipstick he left behind that said “Ask mother.” The main boss would like nothing more for his trusted reporter, Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews) to take over the conglomerate instead of his inept son Walter Kyle (Vincent Price.) Unfortunately, he passes away while talking to Monley, and his son takes over the enterprise. Walter decides the best way to choose who will run the enterprise is to have the men who run specific departments compete against one another. Whoever solves the lipstick murderer Case will get the job! This forces all of the men into a competition while the murderer continues to kill. Reporter Mobley openly taints the murderer on a television cast to lure him out of hiding.
While The City Sleeps is very enjoyable. Similar to Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, it is not extremely hardedged or demanding entertainment. Unlike Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, the film is written more cohesively and shows off a little more of the directorial skill that Lang had shown in his earlier films. I enjoyed the pacing of the film and was never bored throughout the 100 minutes of screen time. That is largely thanks all of the great character actors – George Saunders, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Rhonda Fleming, and Vincent Price all have good roles. I am firmly of the belief that if you put Vincent Price into any film, it will benefit from his presence. I can’t get enough of him.
Out of the two recent Warner releases, I found While The City Sleeps to be more enjoyable than Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Even though the plot here is not exactly rocket science, it is still an entertaining and enjoyable movie. I think that anybody who sits down to watch the film will draw the same conclusion. It is also refreshing to get more Fritz Lang in high definition.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Bros. did a fantastic job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration of the original Black and White film. As is quickly becoming a calling card for Warner, the transfer is top-notch. A slight film of grain is noticeable, but the resulting level of detail will please any fan of the film. While not as evocative as some of Lang’s early work, the final section of the film shows off some of the great skills of the director. It looks very pleasing overall, while not being particularly stylish.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD Master Audio mix leaves little to complain about. Front speakers are used for the entire mix which has been duplicated on both sides of the sound field. Clarity is solid. I did not detect any dropouts or overbearing hiss. I think fans will be pleased with how the film sounds over sixty years later.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
While The City Sleeps is not Lang at his most groundbreaking. I think it could be safely argued that this film and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt are films made by an artist on the brink of retirement. It is not that he completely phoned it in, and there are some real chops on display in the final sequences of this film, it is just not as daring or provocative as his earlier work. That said, I enjoyed watching the film and could just as easily watch it again. I think fans of Fritz Lang will enjoy seeing this get the royal treatment, and newcomers will enjoy it for what it is – a fun popcorn movie with some great character actors.