Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Sleeping City (1950)

Actor Richard Conte was born on this date in 1910. He made many good movies but is especially known for his work in film noir, where he was equally effective as a hero or villain...or someone in between. I marked Conte's birthday by watching his excellent performance in the film noir THE SLEEPING CITY.

THE SLEEPING CITY is an especially good docu-noir, which was filmed on location at New York's Bellevue Hospital. Conte plays a member of an elite detective squad whose past medical training enables him to go undercover as an intern at a hospital where another doctor was recently shot in the head at pointblank range. Gradually the contacts he makes enable him to piece together the story behind a murder no one had been able to solve.

The film has an unusual opening, as Conte introduces himself to the audience and pays tribute to Bellevue Hospital. It seems quite clear that the hospital wanted to make sure that no one thought nefarious goings-on, such as depicted in the film, could actually happen at the hospital! The viewer tours part of the hospital along with new interns, and it makes a fascinating, distinctive setting.

Of course, the modern viewer can't help thinking how impossible it would be, in this litigious society, for someone without the proper degree to be treating patients as a doctor. It's made clear that if he finds himself in a situation he can't handle, he'll have to break his cover in order to summon the necessary help. He comes close at one point, but manages to get through the situation by following the lead of the experienced nurse. I particularly liked that the false identity constructed for Conte made him a graduate of the University of Southern California medical school.

Coleen Gray plays a ward nurse who appears to be a sweet woman, dedicated to her career. But the intern was killed right after he was summoned to talk to her...could she be mixed up in the murder? Gray does a good job with a complex character. However, my only complaint about the film is I had the feeling that a few scenes might have been left on the cutting-room floor, including some developing her character's relationship with Conte.

Coleen Gray turns 90 this October. Her films previously reviewed here include KISS OF DEATH (1947), FATHER IS A BACHELOR (1950), SABRE JET (1953), and TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955).

Peggy Dow turned 84 a few days ago. She has a couple of scenes as a nurse, the fiancee of one of Conte's fellow interns. As with Gray, I had the feeling perhaps she might have been in a scene earlier in the film; she seemed to know Conte's character better than I expected in their first scene. There's additional information about Dow in my review of her film YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951).

John Alexander, who plays Police Inspector Gordon, is best known for his role as Uncle Teddy on stage and screen in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Without his Teddy Roosevelt get-up, I didn't realize who it was at first! He's very effective in a good role as the cigar-smoking detective.

The supporting cast also includes Alex Nicol, in his film debut. Richard Taber plays the elderly elevator operator who runs a bookie operation for the interns on the side.

Karen has an interesting post at Shadows and Satin about a real-life story very similar to THE SLEEPING CITY. (Spoiler alert, those who don't want to know more details about the plot should bookmark it to read after seeing the movie.)

This 85-minute film was directed by George Sherman, who was especially known for his Universal Westerns. It was filmed in black and white by William Miller. The original story and screenplay were by Jo Eisinger.

Conte and Gray both made a number of films at 20th Century-Fox in the late '40s, so I was somewhat surprised to learn that THE SLEEPING CITY was a Universal film. However, that helps to explain why it's not easily available, as many Fox film noir titles have been released on DVD or shown on Fox Movie Channel, while Universal films are relatively hard to come by. The copy I watched had been recorded from commercial-free American Movie Classics a number of years ago. It really deserves a DVD release; it would be an excellent candidate for TCM's line of Universal releases. (Update: This film was indeed released on DVD in the Universal Vault Series.)

Richard Conte passed away in 1975. Late in his career he was one of the stars of THE GODFATHER (1972). Conte films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946), CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948), CRY OF THE CITY (1948), HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949), THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953), HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954), THE BIG COMBO (1955), and FULL OF LIFE (1956). All of these movies are film noir/crime titles, with the exception of the wildly atypical and quite wonderful FULL OF LIFE, a warm comedy in which Conte and Judy Holliday play expectant parents. All of these reviewed films are recommended.

April 2020 Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in June as part of a three-film Film Noir III collection.

June 2020 Update: My review of the Kino Lorber Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Page said...

With the film title I wasn't sure what to expect so of course I was a bit amused when the film took place in a hospital. With murders and the backdrop it sounds scary which I'm okay with.

Hopefully I can find a copy somewhere. Was surprised to see Coleen Gray is in this too.


12:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you can see it soon, Page!

The title seems to come from the idea that things are going on all night at the hospital while the city sleeps, or something along those lines. :)

Coleen Gray never made a particular impression on me until I saw her in KISS OF DEATH, where I really admired her performance. Trying to catch up with more of her films.

Best wishes,

6:28 PM  

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