The Lipstick Murderer
Fritz Lang (1890 -- 1976) was a celebrated film director who fled Nazi Germany for a long career in the United States. I have become interested in his work as an admirer of film noir.
While the City Sleeps" (1956) is one of Lang's later efforts. The film is loosely based upon a book "The Bloody Spur" by Charles Einstein about a Chicago serial killer. The film features a large and extraordinary cast which includes Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, and Ida Lupino. It is set in New York City.
The film intertwines two stories. The first to be introduced is that of the serial killer dubed the "Lipstick Murderer" who kills a woman in her apartment in the movie's opening scene. The second story involves the efforts of a fictitous news media chain, Kyne, Inc to catch the killer and in the process to scoop other media sources and increase its profits. When the elderly Kyne dies, his son, with no prior experience in the businsee, creates the position of Executive Director. He tells his three highest ranking subordinates that the position will be awarded to the one who brings in the Lipstick Murderer. Although not a candidate for the job, a popular tv host with the company, Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews) becomes involved in the search for the killer, and his help is courted by each of the three contenders.
The film offers a portrayal of the Lipstick Murderer and his motivations, the focus is more on the Kyne Company and on the cutthroat competition for the new Executive Director position. The contenders for the position will stop at nothing to elbow out their colleagues and to shut out other news sources from the scoop. In particular, sex becomes heavily involved. A welter of extra-marital affairs are going on between the top executives of the company and staff writers and secretaries. The candidates and the women make heavy use of sex and blackmail, at risk to some of the women involved, to catch the Lipstick Murderer and to secure the prize.
The process is not edifying. The film is more of a critique of the news media business and of the materialism and competitiveness of American culture than it is a story of the attempt to bring a serial killer to justice. I found it difficult to keep all the characters and their machinations straight, but the overall theme comes through.
I saw a good commentary on "While the City Sleeps" by the "Czar of Noir", Eddie Muller who finds that the film lacks most of the characteristics of film noir, including the shadowy cinematography and the internal focus on the main character, which in this case would be the Lipstick Murderer. Muller finds much of value in the film, regardless of whether it is an example of film noir.
I thought this a good, if confusing, film. It will be of most interest to viewers with an interest in historical movies, in crime, and in the penumbras of film noir.