While the City Sleeps is more of a thorough and thought-provoking social study than a genuine noir film. Although it features an intense manhunt for the serial killer, who runs around town murdering innocent girl without a known motive, this aspect of the picture proves to be only a mean to and end in all the provocative intrigue. Still, apart from that macabre theme, the film concentrates mostly on its character-driven narrative, presenting an ongoing war, so to say, between the people who take part in this ingeniously allegorical story of media manipulation. It’s a great example of how selfishness and greed guide people’s behavior, as they constantly struggle in order to stay ahead of the competition.
When Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), a respected media mogul, dies and his haughty and incompetent son (Vincent Price) takes over the empire all hell breaks loose. For his own great amusement, he decides to play a little game with the three divisions of the company, creating an enormously competitive and stressful atmosphere in the building. Being a lazy ne’er do well, he proclaims that whoever gets the scoop on the hot serial-murderer topic wins it all and becomes the head of the corporation. As the race begins, the competitors refer to many mischievous methods in order to gain advantage. In the middle of the fight between the three potential candidates – main editor Griffith (George Sanders), wire service director Loving (Thomas Mitchell), photo chief Kritzer (James Craig) – there is an aspiring, hot-headed reporter named Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews). Being associated with Griffith, he finds the whole idea of a race ridiculous, but he’s sure as hell that he wants to be the first to catch the killer just to satisfy his ego and prove his skillfulness. Mobley is gradually starting to uncover the whole mysterious and gritty affair, and while he does so, he only infuriates other sides. Through a many hit-and-miss trials, ‘The Lipstick Killer’ is feeling more pressure to commit crimes every day. Mobley, using his enormous deductive abilities, and basing his assumptions on smart psychological factors, becomes entangled in the murderous rampage, as his loving – but angry – fiancée becomes the killer’s object of interest.
With the most climatic and riveting finale, While the City Sleeps is Fritz Lang’s most dazzling newspaper crime-drama. It presents a suspenseful story filled with violent imagery, fast-paced and right-on-spot dialogues, and many amazing performances from the stellar cast. Its social critique is indisputable, and so is the fresh take on the topic of a dominant mother-figure, so frequently used as the killer’s motive in many forthcoming pictures.