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“Ten Top Stars! Ten Peak Performances!” – that was a line of the marketing for While the City Sleeps. And rightfully so, as the cast includes heavy-weights Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, George Sanders, Rhonda Fleming, Thomas Mitchell, and more.
This film noir glimpse into a media empire (based on the Chicago killer William Heirens and originally titled The News is Made at Night and The Bloody Spur) was directed by the talented Fritz Lang and was one of his last American films.
1. The story had a message.
Lang enjoyed making films with meaning, and While the City Sleeps tackled a look at the nature of man. Lang said, “Because each of us, these days, is looking for position, power, money, but never anything inside.” However, he was also cautious while setting his critique in the world of news media. He said, “…I had to be careful because that was a story about the press, and we didn’t want to be attacked by journalists all over the world.” The film also made an anti-comic book statement thanks to producer Bert Friedlob (echoing Senator Estes Kefauver at the time). The killer is seen reading them and even profiled as a reader of comic books.
2. Fleming almost turned it down.
Rhonda Fleming almost rejected the role of Vincent Price’s cheating wife because such a character was against her morals. “I almost turned it down, but I guess I wanted to work with Fritz Lang and a great cast,” she said. “But some of those naughty and not-so-nice roles were actually wonderful opportunities to play a wider variety of roles.”
3. The film was made simultaneously.
Lang made While the City Sleeps simultaneously with Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, another film that starred Dana Andrews. It was a hard process as the director tackled pushy producers and an actor with a tendency to party late. As a result, Lang had Andrews tailed, but the actor gave his shadow the slip – even making a dangerous U-turn on the road to shake him. Still, Andrews considered the director a friend and enjoyed the creative process. He said, “I didn’t want to take his direction as to what he wanted until I could ask him questions and then get him to tell me what he wanted so that I could understand – instead of the way he said it [as orders].”
4. A gag was a point of contention.
In the film, Ida Lupino’s character takes a peek at a slide and plays up the image (assumed to be an image of herself) to get the attention of Dana Andrews. Director Fritz Lang thought it would be funny for the image instead to be a naked baby, but a producer vehemently disagreed. However, per his contract, Lang had the final decision. Nevertheless, he was nervous as the scene approached during a preview. He said, “I was sweating blood and water because now everything depends on the audience.” Thankfully, the reveal was met with laughter and even applause.