While the City Sleeps (Lang, 1956)

In both While the City Sleeps and The Blue Gardenia, director Fritz Lang overextends himself by packing too many contrasting genres into seemingly strait-forward material. While the City Sleeps uses a serial killer plot-line, but adds in scenes of bland melodrama about the love lives of the newspapermen attempting to break the story. Furthermore there’s a juvenile competition by these same men to see who can win over the boss with such a scoop in order to get a prime promotion, all framed by a truly disturbing psycho killing young, beautiful women. The NYC setting means nothing to Lang’s expose’ of compromised ethics (even though the ethics aren’t that compromised), except to make the story-line seem grander and more sustainable. But these characters haphazardly run into each other, ideas, and successes, making the whole affair a jumbled mess of danger, comedy, and anticlimactic suspense scenes. Lang is best when he’s focused on one genre, specifically Film Noir, where he can unleash the furies of rage, angst, and familial disconnect through clear cut genre traits, undermining them through morally ambiguous characters (see The Big Heat). While the City Sleeps bases it’s whole existence on the sensationalism of a killer, yet Lang doesn’t match the man’s cruel tactics with any sense of character. He’s just a story to these boring characters, too caught up in their own problems to recognize the true brutality at work. Lang’s look at breakdowns in psychology remain his most interesting projects, showcasing the director’s need to explore the dark corners of madmen and murderers. While the City Sleeps settles for uninteresting hack jobs.

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