Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tonight's Movie: City That Never Sleeps (1953) at UCLA

UCLA's Exile Noir series came to a conclusion this evening with a very enjoyable double bill, CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953) and HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948).

CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS was directed by the Hungarian-born John H. Auer and written by Steve Fisher, the writer behind the original novels or screenplays of noir classics such as I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), THE HUNTED (1948), and ROADBLOCK (1951). Fisher's script has some terrific dialogue which tonight's audience really appreciated.

With its introductory narration and "up all night" theme, the movie echoes THE NAKED CITY (1948) of half a decade earlier. Whereas THE NAKED CITY was filmed in New York, CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS is set in Chicago. CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS melds police procedural with film noir, and it also has a subtle mystical theme to differentiate it.

Johnny Kelly (Gig Young) became a cop to please his dad, police detective John Kelly Sr. (Otto Hulett). Johnny is seriously considering ditching both the job and his pretty wife Kathy (Paula Raymond) and running off to California with a nightclub stripper, Sally (Mala Powers). He might even accept a bribe from a powerful attorney (Edward Arnold) in order to finance his escape from the Windy City.

The film follows Johnny through an eventful single night on the beat which he experiences with a substitute partner (Chill Wills) while wrestling with his personal decisions.

Marie Windsor plays the attorney's trophy wife, Lydia, and William Talman plays a former pickpocket and magician who intends to blackmail the attorney. This was a banner year for Talman playing villains, as he terrified audiences in THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) that same year. Talman gets my vote as one of the best noir bad guys ever; ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) is another great example. Talman is great in this one, whether he's brazening his way out of a building he broke into or intently watching a "mechanical man" in a window trying to decide whether or not the man is real and witnessed a murder -- a great plot device.

The movie starts out on the slow side; a scene with Johnny being nagged by his unseen mother-in-law is more silly than convincing, and Johnny seems more like a whiner than anything else. For starters, part of his problem is that his wife Kathy makes more money than he does. Sally's more than a bit of a shrew so it's hard to really understand the attraction. The grass is always greener, or so he thinks.

The film picks up speed as it moves forward and all the elements in the story begin to snowball together. Marie Windsor's Lydia starts out lovey-dovey with her husband, but since she's Marie Windsor you just know that's not going to last! Nonetheless, I have to say there's one plot twist with her I didn't see coming, and it made the film all the better.

The movie ends up being quite enjoyable and satisfying, and I was also pleased that I had figured out a story angle regarding Chill Wills early on. His character makes the movie a little different from the average noir.

One of the movie's best attributes is terrific location filming in Chicago by John L. Russell. The shadows and rising steam in the streets are simply terrific.

CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS runs 90 minutes. The cast also includes Wally Cassell, Ron Hagerthy, James Andelin, and Tom Poston, in one of his earliest screen roles.

CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Previous reviews in the Exile Noir series: JEALOUSY (1945) and BLUEBEARD (1944).


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