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While the City Sleeps

Screening on Film
Directed by Fritz Lang.
With Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders.
US, 1956, 35mm, black & white, 100 min.
Print source: HFA

The first of two terminal masterpieces produced for RKO, While the City Sleeps reprises M’s serial motifs for the television age. Here the killer is a leather-clad voyeur weaned on violent comic books, and the competition for his capture is waged, as a high stakes gamble, by a heartless corporation: Kane Enterprises, a media syndicate with a new executive position riding on the killer’s capture. Dana Andrews’ television anchor is the only employee unswayed by honorifics, and yet Lang is at pains to show him to be the mirror reflection of the boy murderer. Critics have speculated that the film’s unforgiving lighting was a result of the director’s failing eyesight, and yet it also seems incontrovertible that the media-obsessed While the City Sleeps is the work of a director who, in Jacques Rancière’s words, “senses that it may very well be the end of the line for the old box of illusions, but wants to play a bit anyway with what has supplanted it.”

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