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Images Of Alcohol In American Film: 1909-1960 Presented In Cooperation With The Alcohol Research Group

Tuesday, February 23, 1982
9:45 p.m. While the City Sleeps
Fritz Lang (USA,1956)

Fritz Lang's

With a cast including Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino and George Sanders, and a complex plot meticulously constructed out of the intricacies of character, While the City Sleeps was regarded by Fritz Lang as his personal favorite among his later films.
“While the City Sleeps is full of contradictions, parallels and juxtapositions. At one level, the film is a glossy, fast-paced murder mystery. Three ambitious newspapermen are in neck-and-neck competition to crack a string of violent murders in order to gain the boss’s favor and win a top ranking position at the newspaper syndicate. Below the surface of the plot there is another drama of human emotions and morals. The vicissitudes of the characters depict the ever-present struggle to maintain virtue and integrity in a power-hungry and decadent social milieu. Through Lang’s skillful use of visual parallels and juxtapositions, the viciousness of the power game is mirrored in the pathological violence of the killer and the ruthless sexual manipulation engaged in by the characters.
“Alcohol use is interwoven through the various layers of the film’s structure. At the surface level, the rounds of luncheon brandies, after-work drinks and cocktail lounge rendezvous are a fitting complement to the urbane and sophisticated, but often tense world of newspaper reporting and crime solving. The characters are always drinking, but seldom drunk - the glass and the bottle are so pervasive and yet so nonchalant that they are virtually invisible and entirely ‘normal.’ At the same time, drinking is a major variable in the underlying psychological and philosophical tension in the film. Drink as a symbol of seduction and allurement mirrors the archetypal tension between morality and self-control versus impulsivity and the violation of conventional norms. A striking example of this is Lang’s juxtaposition of the hero’s bouts of drunkenness which stimulate his brash sexual overtures with the murderer’s insanity and violent perversion.
“While the City Sleeps is outside of the mainstream of conventional alcoholism films, yet illustrates the sleek, heavy normalized drinking which appeared in the films of the Fifties, and also provides an example of the enigmatic symbolism of alcohol use in film.” --Denise Herd

• Directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Casey Robinson, based on the novel "The Bloody Spur" by Charles Einstein. Photographed by Ernest Laszlo. With Dana Andrews, Thomas Mitchell, Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price. (1956, 100 mins, Print from Kit Parker Films)