A few words about…™ While the City Sleeps — in Blu-ray

For fans of Mr. Lang, or noir, this will be an important release, not to be overlooked. 4 Stars

At the end of his very long career, the great Fritz Lang, made a few noir films for RKO. To me, his last great film was The Big Heat, for Columbia, in 1953.

The two final American productions, both 1956, were While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Of the two, I find Beyond a more interesting production.

There should be interest in this release from several angles.

Beyond being one of Mr. Lang’s swan songs, the film was shot by the great Ernest Laszlo, whose CV is far too long here to include. For those unaware, best to research. Suffice to say, he knew his way around cameras and optics, and his work here is no exception.

Those images have been harvested from a beautifully exposed fine grain master, struck at the time of release. Hence, Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray is a meticulous representation of the film, as it originally appeared.

Grain structure is velvety. Black levels, and shadow detail, are superb.

Mr. Lang’s cast must also be brought to the fore in these words, as it’s an incredible collection of talent:

Dana Andrews (also in Beyond), Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, and Ida Lupino.

Rounding out the cast, and to me, one of the problems with the film, is John Barrymore, Jr. (aka John Drew Barrymore), who plays the serial killer.

You’ll find Mae Marsh, one of the great silent film stars, as his mother.

For fans of Mr. Lang, or noir, this will be an important release, not to be overlooked.

Aspect ratios, which I seldom discuss, is correct here for SuperScope at 2:1, but the point should be made that this is not from a scope dupe, but rather from an original 1.37 element.

Image – 5

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely

Recommended

RAH

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

20 Comments

  1. Bob Furmanek

    The SuperScope version was for international release only; the film was shown domestically in non-anamorphic 1.85:1.

    Sigh, so this is at the wrong aspect ratio? I know it's not a big difference, but still… I wonder if it looks a little too tight at 2:1, (like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers")……

  2. Dave B Ferris

    I'm hoping to eventually see a BR release of Rancho Notorious, as well – and now I have that infernal "Chuck-a-Luck" song in my head!

    I know what you mean! I rewatched my Warner Archive DVD of Rancho Notorious last week, and that song hung in my head for days afterward. Frequent ghost singer Bill Lee did a great job with it, but it got quite a workout in the movie.

  3. Watched this tonight – not my favorite Lang by a long shot, but it's enjoyable and you can't beat the cast. Yes, it absolutely works fine in 2:1 – there are a handful of shots you might nitpick are a bit tight, but then again I can pick out shots that might "seem" that way in any ratio. The opticals in this film are really rank, I must say, but once you're out of them it's fine.

    BUT: Mr. Harris has not talked about Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, so rather than start another thread, let me talk about it here, since these were released together. Once again, really awful opticals – the rest looks fine and with the exception of about four shots you could nitpick in a VERY minor way, this plays perfectly at 2:1 and would actually look a bit loose occasionally at 1.85. But here's the interesting thing about this one – the trailer, clearly for the US release, states blatantly that it's in RKO-Scope – right there in the trailer.

  4. Mark-P

    The Warner Archive knows their shit. The decision to go with the SuperScope/RKO-Scope ratio was not a frivolous decision, but based on their own internal research.

    Yep, that's what George Feltenstein stated on Warner Archive's podcast.

  5. Mark-P

    The Warner Archive knows their shit. The decision to go with the SuperScope/RKO-Scope ratio was not a frivolous decision, but based on their own internal research.

    Yep, that's what George Feltenstein stated on Warner Archive's podcast.

  6. octobercountry

    Sigh, so this is at the wrong aspect ratio? I know it's not a big difference, but still… I wonder if it looks a little too tight at 2:1, (like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers")……

    Watched the new misframed 2.00:1 Blu-ray of "While the City Sleeps" last night with a couple fiends. I think the non-Superscope composed "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" frames far better than the non-Superscope composed "While the City Sleeps".

    If not too radically misframed, many, or at least some films seem to frame well at several aspect ratios
    (for example, Universal's 2.00:1 misframing on the Hammer Films Blu-ray of 1962 "The Phantom of the Opera" still looks perfect, absolutely a 5+ out-of-5 for image quality).

    On the other hand, "While the City Sleeps" almost never feels right. Perhaps this is because filmmakers shooting in 1955 were still erring on the side of keeping a clean (or wider) frame for those last theaters not having wide screens, and improperly releasing the film in a tighter aspect ratio is erring in the opposite direction.

    But, aspect ratio aside, this film is so disjointed and poorly written that I'll never watch it again. Vincent Price & Ida Lupino give fine performances, but Dana Andrews & Thomas Mitchell seem to be struggling with almost every badly written line in the film. This is RKO going out of business with a last ditch effort to slip something past the public — Fritz Lang directing on undecorated standing sets with an over-the-top list of known stars instead of a quality and well-designed product.

  7. aPhil

    this film is so disjointed and poorly written that I'll never watch it again. Vincent Price & Ida Lupino give fine performances, but Dana Andrews & Thomas Mitchell seem to be struggling with almost every badly written line in the film. This is RKO going out of business with a last ditch effort to slip something past the public — Fritz Lang directing on undecorated standing sets with an over-the-top list of known stars instead of a quality and well-designed product.

    I disagree with your assessment completely. I find While The City Sleeps a compelling noir-ish thriller with the two story lines (the serial killer, the newspaper competition) effectively interlaced. The film has a pulpy feel to it but that seems perfectly attuned to its sensationalistic subject matter and the tabloid nature of the newspaper (the New York Times it's not!) setting. Lang's cynical eye shows a corrupt fourth estate where ethics and morality take a backseat to ambition. The serial killer can't help himself, he's compelled to kill but what's the excuse of that nest of news vipers who will stop at nothing even if it means asking your mistress to sleep with a reporter to get information or using your fiancee as bait for a serial killer. It's tight, it's well paced and I'd certainly rank it among Lang's top five American films after The Big Heat, Scarlet Street, Fury and You And Me.

  8. Thomas T

    I disagree with your assessment completely. I find While The City Sleeps a compelling noir-ish thriller with the two story lines (the serial killer, the newspaper competition) effectively interlaced. The film has a pulpy feel to it but that seems perfectly attuned to its sensationalistic subject matter and the tabloid nature of the newspaper (the New York Times it's not!) setting. Lang's cynical eye shows a corrupt fourth estate where ethics and morality take a backseat to ambition. The serial killer can't help himself, he's compelled to kill but what's the excuse of that nest of news vipers who will stop at nothing even if it means asking your mistress to sleep with a reporter to get information or using your fiancee as bait for a serial killer. It's tight, it's well paced and I'd certainly rank it among Lang's top five American films after The Big Heat, Scarlet Street, Fury and You And Me.

    I wouldn't go that far, but it's a good film as opinions vary.

  9. I go along with much of what Thomas said. I think While the City Sleeps is a fascinating movie. It has it's wacky elements, much of it seems to take place in Lang-land, a place not reflective of any recognizable reality, but that's ok because Lang's reality is plenty ok with me. I think it also shows a major artist working in less than stellar circumstances and making an exciting film. And I think the cast is wonderful. I would prefer the framing to be a little looser, but it looks better than I've ever seen it on either film or video.

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