“…from the Honky Tonks to the penthouses…the creeps, the hoods, the killers come out to war with the city!”
– Original tagline for City That Never Sleeps
Longtime readers of this blog know that prior to the rise of Hollywood, Chicago was the unlikely center of American film production in the early silent era. Unfortunately, in the decade following the U.S. Justice Department’s 1915 dissolution of Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company, when powerful Chicago studios like Essanay and Selig Polyscope closed up shop and moved to California for good, my fair city went from being the nation’s movie capital to a veritable cinematic ghost town. Then, the arrival of “talkies” helped the major Hollywood studios to consolidate their power and location shooting (i.e., shooting outside of southern California) became virtually unheard of in the early sound era.
It wouldn’t be until after the Second World War that a gritty new documentary-style aesthetic would become popular in American cinema, spurred on by the success of the massively influential New York-shot film noir The Naked City in 1948. Soon afterwards, Hollywood crews came to the Windy City for evocative crime films like Call Northside 777, which is often cited (with some justification) as the best “Chicago movie” of all time. I recently however stumbled upon a more obscure, lower budget Chicago noir from a few years later that, for me, easily takes that title from under Northside‘s nose – the 1953 Republic Pictures production of City That Never Sleeps directed by one John H. Auer.
I had heard of the title for years but was unaware of its significance until a piece in Film Comment by Dave Kehr last year offered a reappraisal of Auer as a forgotten auteur and cited City as his “masterpiece.” After tracking the film down on a dubiously legal DVD (the transfer I saw had a television station logo pop up occasionally in the bottom right hand corner), I can only concur with Kehr’s assessment. Aficionados of Chicago movies and/or film noir cannot afford to miss this small, quirky B-movie gem, whose tight budget and extensive use of real locations (which, judging by reviews from the time, may have seemed a liability) only serve to add an impressive feeling of authenticity as well as a certain oddball charm when viewed today; City That Never Sleeps is a genuinely strange combination of documentary realism, stylized noir visuals and a subtle, inspired tinge of the supernatural (it is strongly implied that one character is a guardian angel not unlike Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life). Somehow it all works.
The story concerns one long night on the beat of veteran Chicago cop John Kelly (Gig Young), who is suffering from burn-out when the film begins. Kelly is basically a good-hearted guy who occasionally works the other side of the law by doing favors for corrupt attorney Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold). Kelly is also unsatisfied with his marriage and is involved in a tryst with a stripper known as “Angel Face” (Mala Powers). Like Kelly, Angel Face is a former idealist (she moved to Chicago with the dream of becoming a professional ballerina) who has since become beaten down and made cynical by the ravages of time. Steve Fisher’s script, ably assisted by Auer’s taut direction, details Kelly’s attempts to make some easy money off of Biddel by illegally escorting a crook across state lines. Kelly figures this will enable him to quit his job and run off to California with Angel Face in the morning. But, this being a true film noir, things don’t quite work out that way.
Like the horror film, noir is one of the rare genres (or historical movements, depending on your point of view) that is arguably more effective on a smaller budget and without the presence of major stars. The most memorable low budget noirs from Hollywood’s studio system era often relied on surprising, personal and quirky touches to elevate them above the other standard issue programmers of the day; City has all of these qualities in spades. Like Edgar Ulmer’s Detour or Jack Bernhard’s Decoy, City conveys an atmosphere of sordidness, sleaziness and rank desperation precisely because of its limited budget and resources, qualities that Hollywood’s major studios couldn’t have replicated if they tried. After Kelly endures a tragedy late in the film he angrily laments that he feels like he’s “in a cement mixer being slowly chopped and pounded to death.” Noir protagonists don’t get much more bitter than this.
For Chicagoans, the film has much added interest as it provides a look into the Windy City of a bygone era. John Kelly spends most of his free time hanging out at Angel Face’s place of employment, the “Silver Frolics,” a legendary Chicago strip club that plays itself in the film. Many of the movie’s most memorable exterior scenes take place in front of the Silver Frolics’ mammoth neon facade and in the surrounding north Loop environs. We also get several views of the Wrigley Building as well as evocative shots of back alleys nearby. As the plot progresses and Kelly’s situation grows more and more desperate, these nighttime exteriors are shot with increasingly high contrast lighting and canted angles that make downtown Chicago look like the Vienna of Carol Reed’s The Third Man.
As Kelly chases the chief antagonist, killer Hayes Stewart (William Talman), through this urban jungle, the action reaches a memorable crescendo on the ‘L’ tracks. Both characters end up on the platform of the Merchandise Mart stop where Stewart momentarily loses Kelly when he climbs onto the tracks and, in an impressive stunt, disappears between two trains traveling in opposite directions. Although the Merchandise Mart is close to the movie’s other downtown locations, the decision to shoot there may have been pragmatic – that particular stop had been renovated only the year before. According to chicago-l.org, “the most significant alteration during this period was the installation of a 70 foot moveable platform at the south end of the northbound platform in 1952. The purpose was to extend the platform to allow longer trains to berth.” The expanded platform would have more easily accommodated the film’s crew and equipment and greatly facilitated shooting.
One of City‘s most intriguing aspects is a minor character named Gregg Warren (Wally Cassell), who has the unusual job of performing as a window display “mechanical man” to draw attention to the strip club where Angel Face works. Warren’s job consists of covering his face in silver paint and moving about in a robotic fashion; he is so convincing at playing this role that passersby frequently debate if he is a real man or a robot. Like Kelly, Warren is also in love with Angel Face and the love triangle between the three of them leads to a surprising climax that is as poignant as it is clever. I won’t give it away except to say that, like the irresistible death scene of “Mr. Memory” in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, it is precisely the bizarre nature of the Mechanical Man’s job that threatens to cost him his life.
Dave Kehr sees the Mechanical Man’s station as a metaphor for Auer’s own entrapment. In his Film Comment piece, Kehr asks, “Was this how Auer came to perceive his own position, as a filmmaker of ambition confined within a commercial system? If it was, he found his way out much as his protagonists did: by accepting his situation – and turning it into the stuff of his art.” Amen.
1. “Chicago ”L”.org: Stations – Merchandise Mart.” Chicago ”L”.org – Your Chicago Rapid Transit Internet Resource! Web. 28 Oct. 2011.
2. Kehr, Dave. “Further Research: Inside Man.” Film Comment 47.4 (2011): 22+. Print.
March 5th, 2012 at 7:50 am
Great piece. You should write a book about the history of Chicago cinema. I love what you said about noir and horror being better with low budgets. As with Detour and many horror films from the 70’s and early 80’s, the grainy look of the film somehow makes it more realistic.
March 5th, 2012 at 7:59 am
As a matter of fact, Drew, I AM writing a book on the history of cinema in Chicago (silent era only though).
I think you would really like City That Never Sleeps, btw. The only known 35mm print in existence belongs to Martin Scorsese, who regularly lends it out to film noir festivals. I haven’t read about this anywhere but I’m pretty sure that the look of the automaton in Hugo is based on the “mechanical man” in City. (Check the dude with silver paint on his face in the bottom still in my post.)
March 5th, 2012 at 3:17 pm
Re: The Mechanical Man and HUGO– I can definitely see that.
I love CALL NORTHSIDE 777, but I am not familiar with this one despite being a big Gig Young fan. I wonder if it showed at the recent noir festival in San Fran?
March 5th, 2012 at 6:02 pm
Suzi, according to the Noir City website, it has played there in the past:
It’s been screened in 35 at the Music Box too.
March 5th, 2012 at 8:06 pm
Great piece,as a matter of fact,the city I’m living (Changchun) in is also one of the three biggest filming base after the foundation of PRC,but unlike you,I know so little about it.If your book is published,let me know the name,I will try to get a copy if it is not TOO expensive,lol.
March 5th, 2012 at 10:51 pm
David, I lived in Chicago for 17 years before I started to learn of the city’s remarkable film history. Charlie Chaplin once lived and made a movie here (1915’s HIS NEW JOB), very close to where I live. I was amazed to find that Chicago was kind of like Hollywood before Hollywood. Don’t worry; I’ll let you know all about the book right here on this blog.
June 25th, 2012 at 6:42 am
[…] diners and outdoor ‘El’ Station entrances on elaborate sets. As I mentioned in an earlier post, motion picture production in Chicago did pick up significantly in the film noir boom years of the […]
September 14th, 2012 at 9:23 pm
[…] The Secret History of Chicago Movies: City That Never Sleeps – White City Cinema […]
February 14th, 2013 at 9:31 am
This is set to be released on DVD & Blu-Ray this April (2013) by Olive Films.
February 14th, 2013 at 10:18 am
Great news. Thanks for sharing.
February 10th, 2014 at 6:50 am
Charlie Chaplin hated Chicago and never returned. He was here in winter and the subzero artic weather was more than he could bear. I don’t see how film production could ever take off here with our bad weather.
February 10th, 2014 at 8:36 am
James, I know! It’s surprising that there were as many films made here in the silent era as there were. My book on the subject, FLICKERING EMPIRE, will be released this year.
March 27th, 2015 at 4:14 am
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September 26th, 2015 at 6:29 am
It’s interesting that you connect the “Mechanical Man” with Auer because aside from the “Mechanical Man’s” purpose of what he sees at the end, and being involved in the love triangle, I don’t really see a purpose to him being in the movie. But with all of his depressing lines, questioning his authenticity and purpose in life, that sounds precisely what a director who was not famous, but still made to work in Hollywood would think.
You also talk about the fact that since this is a low-budget production, it “relied on surprising, personal and quirky touches to elevate them above the other standard issue programmers of the day.” I think the character of Joe and the supernatural hits quirky on the head. While I’m not a film noir buff, I would be willing to bet that not many, if any at all, film noir movies had the supernatural so enmeshed in their story. And, to me, all film noir movies – regardless of budget – contain some humor throughout that lightens the movie from being only about crime to being a more fun look at the whole “dark” endeavor. This element of the film, Joe and the supernatural, is the element that lights the film. All of his scenes make you smile when you think that he is some other-worldly presence watching over Kelly. But while this is a Chicago film after all, Joe’s character is not merely from another world; he is from the city itself, even is the city itself. This is what shooting on-location does to a film: It gives it real identity, and creates a character to embody the city so the viewers can feel like they are in the city.
September 27th, 2015 at 11:12 am
I greatly appreciate that you responded to to my review so extensively. But I’m not the one who came up with the Mechanical-Man-as-a-metaphor-for-Auer theory. That would be the great Dave Kehr. Your comment about Joe being the one light area in a world of darkness is money. 20/20.
September 30th, 2015 at 10:13 am
The city that never sleeps is the title supposed to be some kind of metaphor. The story was about a cop John Kelly, who is also named after his father John Kelly Senior, decides that he is going to quit his job as a police officer. John is married but doesn’t look happy about it so he has an affair with a club stripper names Angel Face. They both decide to run off to California to begin a new life. Throughout the film we take a journey with John Kelly Junior who says that today is his last day on the job. He writes a letter to his boss Sgt. Joe. When John went to work his partner did not come in because he was sick however his spirit was present and John had went to work. It was interesting to see how John Kelly had changed personalities throughout the film and what I mean is that he wanted to leave his job at the beginning and as the movie progressed towards the end we noticed how he had not left the job and he went back to his wife and didn’t go away to California with Angel Face.
October 1st, 2015 at 7:04 am
Of course the title is a metaphor! It’s a long dark night of the soul for John Kelly – who literally never sleeps during the film but still wakes as a new man when dawn breaks at the end of the film. You could’ve done a bit more to respond to my review (instead of just summarizing the plot). 18/20
September 30th, 2015 at 1:09 pm
Mr Smith’s review of the city that sleeps is very interesting, especially concerning the film’s protagonist, John Kelly. Mr Smith states in review, Kelly is a very bitter cop, as seen through the film, from cheating on his wife to taking bribes from a corrupt politician. However, Mr Smith also states that John Kelly is also a “good-hearted” man and that can be seen through the scene where he helps deliver a baby. After the baby is born, he holds it, and is even smiling. When one of the other cops comes to put the baby in the ambulance, Kelly tells them to be gentle. Also, after John’s father is killed by the film’s antagonist, not only is he angry, but he also sheds a few tears as well. These scenes show the audience even though, Kelly is a bitter, cynical, man, he is still able to feel sorrow, as well as joy, compassion, and kindness.
October 1st, 2015 at 7:10 am
I’m glad you brought up the baby-delivery scene. In addition to showing that Kelly is “good-hearted” it also serves to foreshadow Kelly’s own re-birth, no? 20/20
September 30th, 2015 at 6:25 pm
In the movie City that Never Sleeps protagonist, John Kelly is very interesting cop. All in one night he goes from hating his job, wanting to quit, move to California with his mistress Angel Face being a corrupt cop and hating his wife to staying on the force, staying in town leaving his mistress and loving his wife again. Also that night he caught a bad guy. Even though they show John as such a bad guy they also show him as a good like when he delivered a baby on the street and then told the other police man to be gentle with the baby. And when his father died it showed him tearing up a little bit. Also when he left his mistress and went back to his wife also showed a more positive side to him. I liked when you talked about in your review that Chicagoan’s have much more of an interest in this film since it based in Chicago. A lot of the scenes in the movie show a lot of history about our city of Chicago. I have never seen this movie before, but I liked it a lot and believe more people especially Chicagoan’s should see this movie. It is great inspiring movie about a cop who turns his life around for the better and lives happily ever after in Chicago.
September 30th, 2015 at 7:38 pm
In the beginning of this movie, we are shown, and told a glimpse of John Kelly’s life. He wants to quit his job, and leave his wife for a stripper who went by the name Angel Face, and he has determined that he will run away with her to California in the morning. I enjoyed the scene of John and Hayes at the L station towards the end of the film because it was intense, and had a ton of action with long shots to show the surroundings of the area. The film in general does a nice job at showing Chicago and its architecture. Moving on, I found Gregg Warren’s character interesting and unique in the film because like you said he was so tremendous at doing his job that people weren’t able to tell if he was a human or “mechanical man.” We were able to see John change and develop as a character throughout the film. For instance, when he expressed feelings for the new mother, as he helped her with her delivery. As the night goes on, the movie gets more intense, but by the time sunrises everything seems to go back to the way things were before that night. John decides to stay with his wife, which I found surprising since his main goal was to leave with Sally instead. I overall enjoyed the film, as well as this entry, which did a great job summarizing the movie.
September 30th, 2015 at 9:02 pm
City That Never Sleeps was definitely a great film. I agree that it was a hidden gem because I couldn’t see how people didn’t like this movie. Personally I would rank Call Northside 777 above this one because I like the story better about the journalism and whatnot, but the scenery of Chicago is greater in this film. It seems like a lot of the films we have watched filmed at the Merchandise Mart stop, is it because of the renovations or was it just a popular stop? I think this a terrific movie and the metaphor of Auer and the Mechanical Man is interesting to say the least. I would have to have watched this more than once and would have to have done research on Auer to connect the two. I must say that Hayes Stewart has probably been the best antagonist of the 3 film noirs that you have showed us in class. He was a ruthless killer and his death was dramatic. A perfect ending to the film.
September 30th, 2015 at 10:42 pm
Professor Smith, you basically summed up this movie in its entirety pretty well. It was a very well made movie made on a low budget and all of the acting done by actors and actresses that weren’t even well known in the film industry really brought out some raw talent. How you mentioned that this film is your favorite Chicago movie compared to Northside 777, it like it much more too, but I was never a fan of old black and white movies only because I didn’t grow up watching them. But this is a movie I actually didn’t mind at all, I was able to enjoy and appreciate movies from this time much more. A quality that stood out from this film, is its humor like Voyo stated. As these movies were being filmed during its making, it all has its own and new talent on the table of being funny its own unique way or incorporating an idea that really would stand out with great significance for all viewers to admire and be able to see the broader picture. Nothing in this film seemed out of place because it was made so well, but also that it was a new style of film being introduced to the industry that it really can’t be judged. There was no set ground rules or foundation for a movie to go into production, and the same is still true today, tweaking raw talent and foreseeing a way of producing a film from the sense of what captures the audience’s attention is one of the main goals. This movie though can for sure portray a large chunk of Chicago’s city life and the variety of characters and personalities that populated its streets.
October 1st, 2015 at 11:42 am
I love how in your review how you mentioned, “After Kelly endures a tragedy late in the film he angrily laments that he feels like he’s “in a cement mixer being slowly chopped and pounded to death.” Noir protagonists don’t get much more bitter than this.”
Film is primarily thought of as a visual art form, or at least that’s what the majority of screenwriting books out there tell us, but by saying that, it allows us to think of the dialogue as secondary. CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS, and this line in particular, are an example that some of the best films are actually the ones with both exceptional dialogue and visuals. There are a few examples in the film that show how these two things go together perfectly, like what piano accompaniment was to visuals in the silent film era, but my favorite, and the most effective, is the scene when Greg gets shot. Angel Face tells Greg that she wants to “do the comedy routine”, and Greg cries, then the people who are looking at Greg through the window shout, “He is a real man”, and then Greg gets shot. The timing of the scene, from the rapid fire dialogue, to the angles, is so impeccable that if it was done any other way, it wouldn’t be as nearly as effective.
Another thing I would like to note about the line “in a cement mixer being slowly chopped and pounded to death”, is that there’s a connection between that line, and a line Greg says a bit later, which is, “I’m a mechanical man, I don’t see, I don’t hear, I don’t feel […] that’s the way a man feels when he’s made of sawdust.” There’s a correlation between cement and sawdust, as sawdust is combined with cement to make concrete (sometimes), so I don’t think this choice of words was random, and Auer wrote these very deliberately. When Johnny said his line, it was after he endured a tragedy, and Greg delivered his line right before he was about to endure his tragedy, like a foreshadowing technique. Johnny also was tearing up after his father died, and Johnny was tearing up before he got shot, which could be a commentary about how both characters started off as bitter, and then developed more emotions and feelings throughout the film and became more than just a cement mixer and sawdust.
October 1st, 2015 at 12:00 pm
I absolutely loved this film for the great cinematography and the gripping plot. I loved that we got to see a crooked and beat down cop turn into this character that really cares about what happens to people in his city. I thought the baby delivery scene definitely humanized Kelly, and showed the audience that he is not a heartless man. without this scene Kelly would appear to be a man that has no compassion for other people due to the way he acts when he is on duty as an officer. I liked how the mechanical man who is suppose to have no feelings due to him playing a robot in the window, leads the end of the story to catch Hayes. If the mechanical man had not showed his feelings and cried at the end Hayes would have surely left and escaped his the fate he deserved as a criminal.
October 1st, 2015 at 12:40 pm
In my opinion, I think that this was definitely the best Chicago-based noir out of the 3 we watched. John Auer did an amazing job using Chicago as his greatest asset in making this film. The low budget really brought out the gritty nature of the city and the film is way better because of it. The many different settings really gave this film a feeling that is similar to a thriller. It has multiple locations and it sort of feels like Auer was unconsciously giving us a tour of Chicago in the 1950’s. I also agree that Gregg Warren was the most intriguing and interesting character. He has dreams and ambitions but he is stuck at a job which makes him into a mindless robot. He fades away into the character and this ultimately made the world of this film better because it gave depth to multiple side characters. Last but not least, this film was gorgeously shot. I was not expecting a film that was so easy on the eyes when you mentioned that it was a low budget film. The lighting in every scene was perfect and it really bumped this film up with it.
October 1st, 2015 at 1:27 pm
I agree with Auer seeing himself as the Mechanical man. Sometimes people have the capability of being a big fish in a small pond, but they seem to conform to everyone elses standards. Directing is a place especially where you need to be unique or create your own style. If you become just another minnow in the pond, when can you get your big break? How will people see you as anything more than just another director? By finally being able to cry in the end, Gregg (mechanical man) frees himslef from the shackles of normal expectations and becomes something more than just a drone in line. Just like Auer did with this film. Great film to see and can’t wait for more like it!
October 1st, 2015 at 1:33 pm
Easily the most artistic film we’ve watched thus far, CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS was an excellent, engaging film. One thing that makes the film in my opinion, is the use of real Chicago locations. Not only do these locations add a deep sense of realism, they also give the film personality. The director and cinematographer did an excellent job with giving the film a classic DARK noir vibe, not to mention the more abstract and interesting shots seen throughout the film (such as the POV car shots, the shot from under the ‘el’ tracks, and many more). These shots definitely make the film more engaging and fun to watch. Another interesting aspect, as you point out professor, is Gregg Warren’s job as a “mechanical man”. Such a bizarre job position gives the movie a sense of character, and definitely sets it apart from other noir films. One other aspect that sets it apart is the character of Joe. Seemingly a guardian angel, Joe gives the main character, John Kelly, somewhat of a moral direction. An intersting scene is the moment when Joe communicates with a police cheif, notifying him that Kelly was on the el tracks, saving him from being shot down. This is the only time Joe interacts with someone other than Kelly. A last aspect of this film to mention is how it ends on a fairly bright note, with Kelly returning to his wife and everyone’s lives straightening out (besides Hayes’, of course). It’s safe to say though Kelly beared some tragedy, at the end he doesn’t feel so much like he’s “in a cement mixer being slowly chopped and pounded to death” anymore. Out of the movies we’ve watched this semester, CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS easily is my favorite. It’s got style, pizzazz, and character (as well as artistic value)!
October 1st, 2015 at 1:37 pm
I think it’s interesting that you brought up that film noirs seem best when shot on lower budgets. I thought “Call Northside 777” and “City that Never Sleeps” must have been shot on pretty high budgets. They both had some pretty stellar locations that appear expensive! Penrod’s pad and the Silver Frollick’s seem super pricy. Shooting at that prison in “Call Northside 777” looked pretty grand. Speaking of which, thinking back on the Silver Frollicks, the outside of that building was so extravagant, that it almost seemed like a studio shot from my memory. I can’t remember anything else from that scene. It felt like that place was the only lit place in the city. I suppose it is just the impression it had.
I think it’s also funny how you mention that each of these noir films have their quirks. What stuck out to me in “Call Northside 777” was the mother of Wiecek. Mama Wiecek was such a treat to watch. There aren’t enough characters like her in the world. I’d say the Irish cop in “Union Station” was the quirk of that movie. He was super whimsical and made the movie almost silly at some points. Lastly, “The City That Never Sleeps” had Greg and the guardian angel. I thought both of those characters were so bizarre. These characters in each of these movies have redefined how I see the genre of film noir. I no longer see these movie as hardcore, smokey films that all have the same vibe, which I contrived from watching various commercials recreating that look consisting of venetian blinds, trench coats, in law offices. In reality, those are all tiny common traits.
September 8th, 2016 at 6:05 pm
I agree that the use of real Chicago locations aided the film’s authenticity. The scene that stuck with me the most is when Kelly was chasing Hayes through the city. They are running up and down stairs and ladders. The high contrast lighting and angles you mentioned are apparent in this scene. You can see their shadows against the buildings and it was very thoughtfully shot.
I can see how this movie could have been less effective if the protagonists were famous actors. I had not really thought about that before. If they were well known from other movies, this movie would not have felt as authentic and documentary-like. I would also have been subconsciously expecting them to behave in certain ways.
I like the connection between Auer and the Mechanical Man. He wants more, but it’s not so easy to obtain. So he does what he needs to do and tries to make the best out of it.
September 15th, 2016 at 7:42 am
September 14th, 2016 at 5:18 pm
I agree that film “noir “ is more effective in low budget films because big budget films utilize props in place of locations , which takes away from the authentic feel .
The strip club in the movie was an actual strip club , and this contributed to the sleezy feel of the movie . Has it been a fake strip club , the sordid feeling the movie was trying to convey would be lost .
The scene with the shootout between John Kelly and Hayes Stewart take place on the L tracks . We see Stewart trip and is very careful not to touch tracks . I think the fact that it took place on the actual L tracks conveyed the danger properly . Having been on the L I was able to relate to Hayes feel of touching the track . I thought it was funny that he did manage to avoid touching the tracks , rather he fell through them .
September 15th, 2016 at 7:42 am
September 15th, 2016 at 2:30 am
A couple years after “Call Northside 777” America had seemingly moved on from postwar cynicism and went into a brand new, more provocative age of cinema. We were entering the “swell years” and with that came something that changed how people viewed cinema, a new genre of movies that would change things through out the 50s and even the early 60s. That genre was known as “Absolute Shit.” I may have mentioned this before but in my mind, the 1950s were absolutely dreadful times for cinema, at least in North America. The Hayes Code was in full effect, neutering cinema and the rise of television practically stole comedies, dramas and more from the big screen for a while. The only thing that continued to be released in cinemas regularly were terrible teen idol movies, cheesy horror movies with guys in gorilla suit, poorly dubbed or bad to begin with imports and cheap sci-fi. Some of these have gone to be come classics but a majority of them are absolutely cheap schlock that really showed how desperate cinema was in those days. Keep in mind, these were the days Ed Wood blossomed and gave rise to “So bad it’s good” cinema.
By the 1950s the film noir was basically dead as a lot of the cynicism that came by the end of World War II died off and America was in an enormous economic boom. Which makes it all the more baffling a film like “City That Never Sleeps” managed to get made, and thank god for it. The film keeps the original grit of the film noir alive whilst adding a new level of sleeze and scandal that helped to keep the dying genre somewhat alive.
Johnny Kelly is a Chicago cop, tired of his job, his marriage and his mother in law. He feels jealousy towards the fact that his wife makes more money than him, annoyance towards the fact he was basically forced into the job and lust towards exotic dancer Sally Conners who works at a club with a supposed “mechanical man”. Lucky for him, a powerful attorney offers Johnny a healthy amount of money to perform a job in taking magician turned thief, Hayes Stewart across the border to Indiana and out of the attorney’s hair. Kelly agrees and what results is twist after twist, scandal after scandal and thrill after thrill.
Like I said, this movie has a surprising amount of sleeze for the otherwise ultra-conservative 1950s (even breaking the 5 second kiss code!). We have a burlesque house, we have police and government corruption, we got cleavage, we even got cringey innuendo. On top of that, with 20th Century Fox producing “Call Northside 777” you got high and clean production values despite being shot on location. Not here, Chicago looks absolutely dirty and filthy in this movie. Trash on the street, gambling everywhere, smashed buildings, homeless people, it’s both the Chicago I love but also the Chicago that I could go without. There is a really great sense of tension throughout it, like at every corner there is some criminal waiting to strike. The last third is one of the most exhilarating final parts of a film I’ve ever experienced, with the film naturally throwing something new at us at every corner. On top of that, the characters are all wonderfully colorful with Hayes Stewart being an at first classy gentleman thief type before devolving into a cold-hearted killer. We have Wally Cassell’s heartfelt performance as Gregg the mechanical man, ironic for a man who in the film is playing a robot. Also Johnny Kelly is the right amount of scumbag but also the right amount of good guy that you honestly do want him to be a better person. I think the fact that his actor is not too handsome and not too over the top cruel helps keep things balanced.
I love the look of this film so much, all the shadows just turn this film into the literal definition of film noir, dark film. Shadows and the cover of night are everywhere in this movie and help to add tension in an already quick paced film. The interactions of the characters, especially between Hayes and the attorney just add to it, it’s almost James Bond levels of charisma.
Bottom line, in an era filled with a lot of crap, this film helps to stand up. By keeping with what made old traditions work, while adding a little more to them than what was persistent in the day actually helps to keep the movie a little more timeless. It’s not perfect but I honestly do think the movie holds up well.
I give it 4 1/2 I am a mechanical man and I do the best I cans out of 5
(props if you know that reference without googling it)
September 15th, 2016 at 7:42 am
September 15th, 2016 at 2:56 am
Could you imagine if Chicago had stayed as the movie capital of the United States? It’s sad that we will never know what that would’ve been like. I think you’re spot on when you say that this film is a B-Movie Gem. What better way to portray Chicago then personify the entire city. Also, nothing is more Chicago then the L tracks and the Wrigley building. This is the third class of yours I’ve taken and I have to say this film is at the top of the list. Maybe it’s because I enjoy film noir so much, or the lack of famous actors that adds that extra sense of realism. I don’t know if I agree with John Kelly being a good guy though. To me he’s pretty unlikeable. He’s crooked, he’s cheating on his wife, and he’s bitter. Maybe he is a guy who is just burned out of his life, but I just don’t feel that bad for him. I sympathize with Gregg Warren much more.
September 15th, 2016 at 7:43 am
September 15th, 2016 at 11:49 am
In comparison to “Call Northside 777” this film, “City that Never Sleeps”, I felt though it was a lower budget picture it emphasized more of the gritty feeling that make the Film Noir genre appealing. In “Call Northside 777” the main character McNeal is moral somewhat by the book person even-though he is creatively deceptive at times. In “City that Never Sleeps” the character Johnny Kelly is quite the opposite being that his life is split somewhere in-between the grey area of what could considered right and wrong. After “Call Northside 777” we were posed the question of how the city of Chicago could be seen as a character in “City that Never Sleeps” however the city was a character and had a voice that narrates the story and physical body at times in the form of Johnny’s partner Joe. Inserting the character of Joe/Voice into the film gave more life and personality to the city, having him act as a conscience to Johnny so to speak in a way influencing him away from the decision he made of running away. If you were to delve deeper into the way the city narrates and takes form I think it would have made an interesting series of films where each follows a different resident. While watching this I was reminded of a modern film noir film from 2005 called “Brick”. The plots are completing different but the overall feel is the same. I also remember reading about a theory of one of the characters who helped the main character several instances was a figment of his imagination or a hallucination. The theory was unsubstantiated but if it was true it’s possible that this film was an influence of sorts.
September 15th, 2016 at 1:16 pm
September 15th, 2016 at 12:39 pm
What I love about Noir is the grittiness of it. There is a shot in Call Northside 777, when Jimmy stewart goes into the witness woman’s apartment building on the southside of chicago that is just engaging. There are cobwebs, dust, genuine grime and muck of an urban slum and it all feels so menacing. Hollywood is so clean and slick. Even films shot today that are shot on location with digital lenses and HD picture feel so clear and crisp so that whatever grimness that is captured never feels as real as watching an old Noir Picture filmed on 35 millimeter stock. Such is The City that never Sleeps. I thought Northside 777 was good, but I gotta say this might be one of my favorite film we’ve watched in your class, apart from M, Contempt, and Celine and Julie go Boating. Chicago is the absolute best city for a Noir to take place and this film takes full advantage of that, shooting on city streets, abandoned Garages, smoky rooftops, and, of course, the Infamous El tracks. The Characters are great too. I don’t think I could say that any of them, despite what you said, are bad. They do immoral things but you understand why. The happy(ish) ending for the main character feels deserved and was something I liked. Kelly Cheated, he was crooked, but in the end, He found out what his problem was and he started to seek redemption. I think that’s actually pretty profound and fascinating to put in a story where I genuinely would have been fine with him just being an asshole. I think of all the films I’ve seen in your class I can say without a doubt that, although I may not say its definitively the best overall, it has THE BEST atmosphere.
September 15th, 2016 at 12:39 pm
by the way this is andrew 🙂
September 15th, 2016 at 1:16 pm
Who else would call himself Special Agent Cooper?!
September 15th, 2016 at 1:16 pm
September 15th, 2016 at 12:48 pm
I love the take you had on this film and the minor character Gregg who I personally felt so sorry for during the scene where Angel Face told him it wasn’t going to work out between them, as well as the ending of him attempting to sacrifice himself and her telling him she wanted to share those dreams with him, that was just beyond heartfelt, but a scene that had me in some tears was Kelly’s father dying, i could felt every emotion going through Kelly then and there and i really wished you had warned me about that! kidding though the whole film was just perfect to showcase Chicago and its beauty, even in the dead of night
September 15th, 2016 at 1:17 pm
September 15th, 2016 at 1:01 pm
City that never sleeps had some interesting and side quest like moments that had great symbolism but came out of the blue and doesn’t necessarily contribute to the progression of the main conflict such as; delivering a baby on the street and knocking off a illegal street gambling game. Liked that the city itself was a character and i inferred that the sub-conflicts were pieces of the personality of Chicago at night. I loved certain shots such as the caged rabbit. The film came back to the caged rabbit a couple times giving me the feeling that everyone in the movie is trapped in some form. Johnny being trapped by his job and marriage, the mechanical man trapped in his mind (“when a man is made of sawdust”) and stuck behind a glass window, angel face trapped between the love of two men. The antagonist sets himself to be trapped by the law as soon as he shoots Penrod Biddel. his face grows darker hiding the shadows after he makes his next two kill of Biddel’s wife and Johnny’s father. The only scene that got me to feel emotional about the characters is the father- son moment between johnny and his dying father. That was the most beautiful moment in the movie.
September 15th, 2016 at 1:18 pm
September 15th, 2016 at 1:36 pm
I agree that City That Never Sleeps surpasses Northside (not that Northside’s not great; it is). I think it’s more impressive visually, and plotwise, and it has more interesting characters and interactions/relationships between them. There are a bunch of characters for a 90-minute movie, and a lot of them are pretty well fleshed out with generally tragic detail. The corruption of cop families and justice, and a tin man with a heart.
I love the way the film starts with a wide/high shot of Chicago and the ghostily reverbed voice-over boldly declaring “I AM the city!”. Immediately personifying and anthropomorphizing the city, and making it clear that this is a film about Chicago.
“And this is another one of my denizens.” (Is it comforting or terrifying that Chicago has a seemingly omniscient presence? (It never sleeps!)) I love the door-closing dissolve into the Continental Hotel followed by the tilt/cut/tilt/zoom of the street level shot zipping up to the rabbit in the window; it’s beautiful and jokey, and is effectively used to define the location: repeating the zoom on the window-rabbit when the film returns to Hayes Stewart’s apartment. There are a lot of nice cuts and camera-movements in CTNS, but this is probably the flashiest… but, then again, there are also the terrifying first-person driving segments. Those are pretty flashy.
When Johnny Kelly (Gig Young) is talking to the guy in the station’s garage, I wonder what the guy is thinking when ‘the Ghost’ (of Joe-who’s-out-with-an-earache/Chicago) shows up and Kelly spins around and starts talking to (what is probably (to Garage Guy)) nothing, asking the nothingness things like ‘Who are you?’ and ‘How do you know my name?’. I feel like Garage Guy would be concerned. Of course, the whole conversation might have just been in Johnny’s head, and Gar Guy might have just seen Johnny awkwardly cut-off their conversation, turn around, and stand there for a minute before leaving. Though, perhaps the garage-man is also a ‘ghost’, he certainly doesn’t seem very cop-like, with his plaid coat and pipe. Maybe the rabbit is a ghost and these ghosts are everywhere. Agents of Chicago. Feelers of the city. Figments of imaginations? Is the city of Chicago inducing psychosis in Johnny Kelly just to teach him a lesson about justice and family? Should Chicago be doing this? Has it gone too far? How will having been subjected to this imaginary ghost-person effect the future Mr. Kelly? Did Chicago influence the actions of Hayes?!
September 15th, 2016 at 1:40 pm
Location functions in tandem with budget constraints to make a wonderfully stylistic noir in “City That Never Sleeps”. The artful combination of low budget elements serves an airy and dreamy intangible atmosphere that still manages make you feel like something is stuck physically on you. The fact that the plot takes place within Chicago also molds the characters. John Kelly had a legacy as a police officer forced upon him and on top of a disinterest in his profession, his profession takes him face to face with the every day dark ongoings of our infamously underhanded city. The shining city glows during the day time just to make those who inhabit it during the night aware that they are not there to see the sun. An omnipresent voice narrates and in a judging tone explains the unfortunate backgrounds of each character. Angel Face aspired to be a ballerina. Warren an actor. Hayes a magician. The shadows on the deserted streets that Kelly bounces around on to and fro. Wabash, Montrose, Huron, parallel the shadows of shame that are painted in Kelly’s, Angel Face’s and Warren’s lives. Kelly’s dealings with Biddel, Angel Face’s affair with a married man, and the beach Warren is forced to travel to in his mind. We finally see a shot of a full street, with the cars, storefronts and houses fully visible when Kelly resolves his work and love life troubles and comes home at sun rise.
September 15th, 2016 at 1:41 pm
Watching City That Never Sleeps really pulls at your heartstrings, especially at the end, I wasn’t expecting that. I definitely agree that there is documentary realism and this is for sure a noir aspect in this film. I love Film noir films and for this one to be shot in Chicago just makes me love it even more! I agree that the low budget film noirs are the best ones because they have to be more creative with how they spend their money and the streets of Chicago at night in this film are just beautiful. I love that they incorporated the Silver Frolics in the film it gives it a real sense since this was really in Chicago. I loved the beautiful shots of the Wrigley building. Being able to compare it from then to now is wonderful. When Hayes emerges through that gate like thing in the Wrigley building makes me wonder if that was put in for the movie or if that’s really how that is.
September 15th, 2016 at 5:59 pm
In 1953 John Auer’s film noir classic, City that Never Sleeps, was released as a B-picture. In a recent review of this film from White City Cinema one reviewer even goes as far as to call it the best “Chicago movie” of all time. This is due to the utilization of real sets being based in the city which adds to the genuine feel of this gritty film. The borderline villainous characters found throughout the film also help to bring more depth and emotion to the film. This emotion is further developed by the portraying of these characters in a much darker, more stylized way than you would find in a more mainstream picture. However, I would not go as far as to say this is the single best movie from Chicago, for me that title is a hotly debated one. But I will say that in my personal opinion, I found another Chicago film noir piece, Call Northside 777 which we saw in class, to be a more enjoyable movie to watch and reflect upon.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy watching City in class, I simply preferred the film Northside to it in comparison. In Northside the characters in the film may not have been as dark, but I found them to be more enjoyable to see on screen. Granted, these characters were not saints in any sense of the word; in fact the main character of this film is frequently manipulative and dishonest in order to achieve his goals, acting like a sort of “lovable trickster” character. But the main difference between the characters in these films is that the characters in Northside are much more morally upright than those presented in City. This is because the characters in City are much more connected to the “underbelly” of the city of Chicago (i.e. they are crooked cops, murderers, and strippers). As cool as it was to see these shady characters interacting with one another the lack of morals these characters possessed made me feel a slight disconnect from the film, for it felt like these people were all too self-absorbed to be able to care for anyone but themselves. While watching Northside it was much easier for me to see the emotional connections that the characters had with one another, such as the mother of Frank who worked for eleven years scrubbing floors to get enough money to offer a reward for information that could lead to her son’s exoneration.
The final issue that I have with City is the semi-supernatural aspect that is hinted at in the film. At a few separate points in the film is implied that Johnny’s partner for the night may be some sort of spirit, ghost, or guardian angel. The actor who plays this character also does the opening and closing voice overs for the film where he speaks as the voice of the city watching over its citizens. Because this aspect of the movie is for the most part unexplained, I was not able to connect with this portion of the movie. If anything, this odd plot twist just confused me and made me feel as if these details on the character of Johnny’s partner were added to the script in a sloppy way that detracts from the rest of the film.
Altogether I felt like City that Never Sleeps was a well-made film. The cast was fantastic at bringing more depth to their characters, the historic filming locations used were perfect for bringing on a dark atmosphere to the film, and I really thought it was interesting to see a movie where there is no real “good guy” because all of the characters have so much of their own personal baggage. However, I did not think that this was the best “Chicago movie” of all time. I think that the film Call Northside 777 deserves that title because as an individual I found this movie much easier to process and relate to.
September 16th, 2016 at 11:56 pm
Chicago is such a great city for this genre of film, especially at night because of its alley ways, big buildings, seedy neighborhoods, etc. The city has a dangerous side and a reputation for violence and illegal activity/police corruption. Its not surprising that in the City That Never Sleeps they had the main character as Kelly, the police officer who is in constant struggle with his darker side. I think escaping the city with angel face was to him, maybe not only him trying to leave behind his work (which is surrounded by violence and pessimism) and his wife who is caught up in her work, he is also trying to leave behind a part of himself. I agree that angel face is another person like Kelly who feels desperately trapped and doomed in the city such as how upset she was at first when Kelly wasn’t so sure he was going to leave with her the next day.I also agree that low budget films work much better in the noir genre because filming in a city like Chicago, showing the city as it is without the need to create some big expensive set makes the film much more realistic. Also, I agree that not having major movie stars as the main characters in the film let the characters be seen with no expectation or some alternative personality then what this specific film wanted them to be represented as. It also allowed the city its self to stand out.
September 17th, 2016 at 9:24 am
February 8th, 2017 at 2:17 pm
The City That Never Sleeps was definitely better than Call Northside 777. City was made later and by proxy was produced better in my opinion. The use of real scenery, just like Northside, gives certain scenes more personality than if it was made on a set. The scene where the security guard calls the police because he saw someone using the elevator was interesting and funny because a tension builds when the character was trying to open the file cabinet, and finds a letter along the lines of “GFY” while simultaneously Joe and Kelly are skeptical and interact with the security guard in a condescending and teasing manner. The use of scenery in the film like Northside give the whole film a gritty feel, but unlike Northside, City’s story line was better because it followed a police officer, whose role has much more elasticity in terms of the direction the plot could’ve went unlike that of the journalist from Northside. I find it very interesting that some of the scenes in this movie just like Northside, were prototypical of movies I watch today.
February 8th, 2017 at 10:50 pm
With “The City That Never Sleeps” you have a film that truly encapsulates everything that is gritty and almost dark about the city of Chicago’s scenery. Throughout the film, we see great shots of the city from the real life night club, Silver Frolics to the synonymous L’ track at the end of the film. Along with the almost “It’s A Wonderfull Life” feel of the film with the character Sgt. Joe who acts as John’s guide throughout his long restless night.The cinematography in “The City That Never Sleeps” is also impressive. Especially in the scene where we see Hayes waiting to see if the man in the window of Silver Frolics is actually a machine or just a man. At first, we see a point of view shot from hayes looking through the small crack in the wood. Then he fires a shot and we see the camera fly in front of the people standing in front of the window as the bullet pierces the glass. The messages that this film embodies is spot on as well and can still be relatable even today. All of these characters from John, Angel Face, and Warren who all came to Chicago with big dreams and aspirations, only to have their dreams swallowed up by the city’s darkness. “The City That Never Sleeps” truly uses everything that Chicago has to offer to make it a great film.
February 8th, 2017 at 10:51 pm
“The City That Never Sleeps”, a film steeped in gritty noir documentary like realism that captivates its audience through creative use of camera work, lighting, and most importantly its specific use of locations. Much like the first film we watched together as a class, “Call Northside 777”, this film uses the city of Chicago to its advantage in a way that, at the time, the major hollywood system simply could not do. As Michael Smith perfectly states in his blog, “‘City’ conveys an atmosphere of sordidness, sleaziness and rank desperation precisely because of its limited budget and resources, qualities that Hollywood’s major studios couldn’t have replicated if they tried.” This couldn’t be any truer, and that only helped the films believability. Kelly was a tired man, one who feigned his care for just about everything in his life at the beginning of the film. Whats more is that Kelly was surrounded by people with mutual lackluster and a beaten in sense of self worth, (perhaps excluding his wife) Even his father was ready to throw in the towel albeit for different reasons. The city followed suit, appearing cold and empty in most scenes. The weather even seemed unforgiving, cold, and hostile. Shadowy streetlights dimly illuminating the vacant streets. the only sign of life coming from within the sleazy “Silver Frolics”. A place so unaware of reality, even after a murder takes place within the club, the patrons appear completely unfazed. Even as gunmen and police rush in and out, the party never stops. Noir belongs in Chicago, it is built for it. The crescendo of ‘L’ track chase, the dutch angle shots peering down alleys, the gritty streets, the sleazy nightclub, it all pulls you in. This place is real. Chicago feels alive and dead all at once, it can almost be overwhelming, and that is something Hollywood just cant do.
February 8th, 2017 at 11:38 pm
Often times, when a films budget is low, and done with care, it feels more realistic than a film with a high budget. I think that City That Never Sleeps is a great example of a low budget film done right. Because of the use of location shooting (mainly the strip-club), the movie felt extremely grounded in real life. Since the director didn’t have a lot of money to spend on props, the use of locations is extremely detrimental to the feel of this film. The strip-club felt alive because of its scale, and prominence in the city. The overall architecture and look of the building itself contributes greatly to the theme of a sleazy and dirty city. As you mentioned in your atrticle, Gregg (the mechanical man) is one of the most interesting characters in the film. I agree with this – I felt that his moral conflict of “human vs machine” as well as the love triangle between him, Kelly, and Angel Face causes the film to feel dark and noir-ish. Since the genre of film noir borrows from elements of German Expressionsim, this film contains a lot of weird camera tricks. One example of this is when Hayes gets caught by Kelly. As Hayes runs towards the camera, he almost seems to run into the camera before it cuts to the other side of the room. I thought this choice of filming illustrates how Hayes felt trapped and closterphobic in that situation. Overall, I really enjoyed the dark and sleazy tone of this movie. While the story was somewhat simplistic, the atmosphere and characters themselves were anything but. The B-movie feel of this film only added to my enjoyment of it, and I feel that as you said, this movie is truly a hidden gem of the film noir genre.
February 9th, 2017 at 10:44 am
City That Never Sleeps was an excellent movie for it being a low budget movie. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than Call Northside 777 because you didn’t know what was going to happen. The location shooting of the film, and the acting was on point considering it being a low budget movie. When you mentioned Gregg (the mechanical man) as him being one of the most interesting characters i have to agree with you because the only reason that Gregg stayed at the club as the mechanical man was because of Angel Face, he was in love with her and he was willing to be a robot (as a career) just to be able to see her everyday. And the love triangle between Gregg, Angel Face and Kelly was something that kept the audience thinking about throughout the movie. Was Kelly going to actually leave his wife to be with Angel Face, or was Greggs’ Dreams going to become a reality. The scene where the cops are waiting for Hayes to come out and shoot Gregg was what i believe a pretty cool scene because the camera angles showed the streets from the cops perspective as if their heads are sideways looking around the corners. Thinking throughout the movie i could see that the mechanical man and John Kelly Sr. were in fact John Kelly Jr’s future. John was chasing a dream of moving to California and starting over which is basically describing what Gregg was trying to do. Or he can stay to be a cop and be just like his father. So i believe that the main reason for his father in the movie and Gregg was to show us John Kelly’s future without us even knowing. Overall i really enjoyed this you can say B-action/suspenseful movie.
February 9th, 2017 at 11:30 am
City That Never Sleeps is a film that utilized its low budget surprisingly well, especially for a film released in 1953. The film works in many ways, but also falters. The glorious cinematography captures Chicago at night and preemptively lends itself to later become the look and feel for Gotham City. This film does a stronger job at portraying Chicago as a seedy town with hardly any redeeming qualities over Call Northside 777, but where this film falters is where Northside succeeded, an engaging lead. Jimmy Stewart as PJ McNeal was a charismatic do-gooder who simply wanted to find out the truth of a crime from a decade previous. He spent day and night digging through evidence and interviewing potential witnesses, going through the underbelly of the city that many avoided. Johnny Kelly on the other hand is a bored, miserable cop who wants to run away to start a new life with his mistress, yet I am never convinced he truly wants to nor am I to believe being a cop or a husband in a quite suburb of Chicago is so awful or redundant for this man to just up and leave on a thinly constructed plan. Scenes felt stitched together rather than organically connected, particularly the third act. City certainly had more nail biting scenes over Northside such as Hayes Stewart hiding in the dark attempting to determine if, in fact, the robot in the window of the club is a real man. if so, Hayes must shoot him, but not before the cops leave the area, whom are searching for him after he murdered three people inside the club.
While this film is certainly a step forward in the right direction for the noir genre, I must disagree with you Mr. Smith that this film “easily takes the title from under Northside’s nose” as the greatest Chicago film of all time. I place that sort of recognition on the infamous musical film The Blues Brothers, a film that utilizes the entirety of the Chicago land area to explore the music of Rhythm and Blues. It was a love letter to what is easily the greatest city for blues music while also a bizarre comedy of two brothers who simply want to get their old band back together despite endless police and even Nazi interference. Obviously, the two films are of a vastly different genres, but both banked on using Chicago to tell a story.
Your review for City That Never Sleeps is passionate, in-depth, and engaging. Had I not seen this film previously, I would certain view it per your recommendation, but while I was certainly entertained by City That Never Sleeps, I can’t say it’s a film worth viewing for a second time.
February 9th, 2017 at 2:11 pm
City That Never Sleeps was an excellent film in my opinion. This film really surprised me because it was so good and the budget was so low. In my opinion this film was better and grabbed my attention more than the film Call Northside 777. It grabbed my attention because the shots in the film captured great parts of Chicago at night. It was dark gloomy shots at night of the city. This film did a great job capturing different shots all over Chicago as the cop, Johnny Kelly, was all over the city. Something that was really interesting to me that I also saw in Call Northside 777 was that when the people were in the car going somewhere, looking out the windows of the car, we could see real actual shots of the city of Chicago in such earl times. I was surprised that the structure of the film was so well done and was not blurry. We were able to see everything so clear throughout the film. This film had action but also was a love story. It had action because there was a good guy and a bad guy, towards the end of the film we could see that the film was intense as Johnny Kelly was chasing the man who killed his boss, who was his dad. The thing that really had me going was trying to guess whether or not Kelly leave his wife and leave with angel face or whether the mechanical man would make his dream come to reality. I just feel like this film was a thriller but also a love story between the mechanical man, angel face and Johnny Kelly. What I found weird was that in the article it said about how the mechanical man was in front of the strip club to grab the audience attention and so that people would notice the strip club which to me was strange. I have never seen strip clubs have mechanical mans outside the window. This film was low budget and was different from other films that it really stud out to me, great film.
February 9th, 2017 at 2:17 pm
I thought City That Never Sleeps was very well done for a low budget film. But I enjoyed Call Northside 777 just because of the different location shooting. Compared to City That Never Sleeps it seemed that the film was shot in the same location. In City That Never Sleeps the audience really didn’t see much of Chicago. I thought when the producers were filming John Kelly in his cop car I thought they could have shown the surrounding areas, for example.
I thought all of the actors and actress were amazing in both films.
My favorite and the most interesting character in the both of the films was the Silver man in City That Never Sleeps. Even though it seemed he played a character that seems not important but at the end of the movie the views noticed that he does play an important part. He’s the man that attracts the people to the nightclub, and the people that stop in front of the night club are amazed, wondering if he’s real or fake. Sadly at the end of the movie he was shot because he was a witness of a shooting. But the shooter didn’t know he was real until he saw the silver man shed a tear.
February 9th, 2017 at 2:50 pm
Films with a smaller budget have to manage their resources better that a film with a larger budget. This budget forces the film to rely heavily on surroundings and unique shooting locations, something other films do not have to do. What the film “The City That Never Sleeps” really does well is take the viewer to different parts of the city. Places that could not easily be replicated, like back alleys and just the beautiful Chicago architecture. It makes the drama and crime more believable. That Chicago has a underbelly that could turn good men and women into criminals, and people without morals. That is why this is a great film noir. It gains character and belivability.
I personally enjoyed watching this movie. Sure the characters could have been developed more and add more meaning to the story but at the end of the day, the movie did its job. It entertained its audience while using the popular genre of the time. Capitalising on what was around them they did the best they could, with the budget they had, to shoot a film. I thought the characters relationships, the love triangle, murder witness, cop criminal duality was all entertaining.
May 11th, 2017 at 9:59 am
The City That Never Sleeps is an impressive noir with dynamic use of location shooting that adds spice and character to the film. In comparison, Call Northside 777 involved a few location shots that simply acted as indications of current location of the scene. However, the location shooting in “The City That Never Sleeps “is much more gritty, dark, and cold, encapsulating the aura and tension of the film’s plot. What’s more is that the low budget of the film means that the director has to carefully pick the location, as well as the overall lighting for each shot. The stark contrast of the dark scenes of the streets compared to the lights and tone of the strip club aids in the mood and tempo of the scene, which makes it feel as if the shot is meant to depict the language of the film, rather than just to attract the audience and showcase the strip club itself. Thus, the director creatively picked through each detail of a location shot to further enhance the plot and aid the characters in the given scenes. All in all, I definitely enjoyed this film only because of the how interesting and thrilling the storyline was. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Hayes Stewart hides in the shadows after murdering three people inside the strip club. While hiding, Hayes notices a man standing by the window, it’s actually a robot in the window of the strip club but he thinks it’s an actual person. Hayes decides whether or not to shoot but the police are searching the area for him!
September 6th, 2017 at 7:14 am
[…] White City Cinemaでは、シカゴを舞台としたフィルム・ノワールという観点から、都市の情景を中心に論じている。 […]
February 1st, 2018 at 6:58 pm
The City That Never Sleeps, is a very unique film that was executed on a low budget. With the use of real Chicago locations it helped demonstrated things of symbolism very well. The locations selected were perfect fits for the film. With the use of sketchy ally ways, ideal locations on Wacker drive upper and lower, and even the el ( a not so safe/sketchy area to be around at night) helped bring dramatic effect as well as real life worries and danger to the audience. The use of these real locations made the viewers feel the tension during the chase scenes because its a very realistic possibility as well as the numerous crimes that have occurred in these specific locations already. The unsafe dangerous environment that Chicago is like and has been, helped fulfill the suspense that was trying to be established. I believed it was a great classic.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:04 am
Agree wholeheartedly about how the location shooting at night increases our sense of danger. 10/10
February 2nd, 2018 at 8:57 pm
in the 1953 film the city that never sleeps ;directed by john h. auer a clever juxtaposition of crime and darkness to portray a wonderful film noire despite a relatively small budget, I thought the use of real Chicago locations made the audience more comfortable by conveying a more home like experience. for example the scene on wacker drive and lasalle street etc. the mechanical man and angel face displayed a radical twist that gives the film its more demonic aspects. john kelly was your typical irish catholic police officer from district 21. the merchandise mart and silver frolics etc. as accurate Chicago structure revealing more truth or light to this seemingly dark film.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:05 am
February 4th, 2018 at 12:41 pm
I am the city…I’m big and grimy but boy am I real. I’m full of milling people, cops, crooks, two-bit hustlers, wistful silver men who are cousins to The Tin Man, crooked lawyers, crap shooters, and strippers. By the way, the actress playing Sally’s friend Agnes DuBois is one Bunny Katcher (on the left in above picture). She married a Chicago disc jockey named Dick Lawrence and they had a daughter, Tracy Lawrence. In 1976, I was in a local production of “The Wizard of Oz” at school auditoriums, playing the wizard, and pretty Tracy played Dorothy, furthering the Oz connection. But I digress.
The Republic movie made good use of the Chicago loop, the streets, alleys, el platforms, loading docks, lower Wacker Drive, and of course the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower. So much more compelling than the Hollywood back lot that you see on “The Untouchables.” Romantic actor Gig Young got to play a morally compromised cop who becomes a man bent on revenge when his father is shot by bad guy William Talman. The sequence of the pursuit on the el tracks with the menacing third rail in close ups is exciting. Talman tripping and roasting his arms and then falling like a load of washers to the ground is a satisfying ending. Chill Wills portrays the spirit of the city, but he should have done it with his hand out. In 1977, I had a temp job on the long inside truck dock of the Merchandise Mart, delivering furniture to the showrooms on rolling carts, going up and down on the freight elevators, and so I was on that el stop every day. It was a fun thing to do for four weeks.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:06 am
You are hilarious. 10/10
February 5th, 2018 at 12:22 pm
This is a great summary and review of the film, from both a filmmaking and historical perspective. I agree that film noir, or neo noir for that matter, is absolutely more effective on a smaller budget and with the absence of A listers. It really helps to immerse the audience and adds to the realism of the film. I really like your point about this film being a view of what Chicago looked like in that era. The Wrigley Building, Silver Frolics, and the Loop are all great examples. I find even just the basic interiors and exteriors of the city fascinating, as they help to escalate the feelings of danger and suspension already in the story and add a bit of character that can really only be found in Chicago.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:07 am
February 7th, 2018 at 12:04 am
I really liked the way they used all of the different levels in downtown. The elevated train tracks, lower Wacker Drive and the expressway underpasses. It was a great way to not only show different aspects of the city but also a great way to show symbolism. I found it really cool that they used an actual strip club that was around in that day, and the way the camera always seemed to stay near the door when they filmed the girls onstage. It didn’t just make sure the whole stage was in the shot but it also made it seem like the whole place was so taboo that even the film crew didn’t want to sully themselves by going all the way inside.
– Mary De Lance
February 8th, 2018 at 10:08 am
February 8th, 2018 at 3:28 pm
That’s my nickname, which is why I put my name in the response lol
February 7th, 2018 at 5:19 pm
“City That Never Sleeps” is considered to be one of the best Chicago-set films of the postwar era. It was filmed on location in the city with some of its scenes being shot in notable areas such as the city streets and the L tracks at Merchandise Mart. As a film noir, it showed Chicago’s dark underworld from the burlesque clubs to the greasy criminals operating under everyone’s noses. It is indeed a noir because of its downbeat themes of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. However, the film has also been interpreted to possibly be how its director, John Auer, felt about being trapped in the studio system, an industry that had already become commercial for the most part. “City That Never Sleeps” actually grew out of Chicago’s earlier years when it was a film capital. The fact that Hollywood producers came to Chicago to film “City That Never Sleeps” shows the massive industry that receded here, but was taken over by Hollywood. In a way, it was moviemaking returning briefly to its roots and it showed the incredible breadth of technological change. And after learning about what the term “B-movie” meant, depicting Chicago as a figurative ghost town makes all the more sense.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:09 am
February 7th, 2018 at 9:00 pm
I really enjoyed how the use of actual Chicago buildings were used for the set and not something they glued together at the last minute. It shows that they really put an effort into making the movie. Especially with a low budget. I usually enjoy lower budget films because they are simpler and often better than a huge budget film. They take their time because they know they can only have the area for a small amount of time, so they have to make it perfect. With a higher budget they could just say just “CG” it. Then it loses its realism to the movie. I feel that Kelly played his role very well as a dirty down to earth cop, but is slowly turned over to the light later on in the movie. The movie had a more darker mood to the plot than “Call Northside 777”. I feel that the noir style of film was a lot more present in “In the City That Never Sleeps”. I didn’t think the use of Joe in the movie was really needed. He only really showed up when it was really important to the plot and what was going on. It is a different twist to the noir style of film. But it could have done just as good without the guardian angle bit.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:13 am
February 7th, 2018 at 11:05 pm
Throughout the entire showing of The City Never Sleeps, I was taken back by the sheer influence of German Expressionism had on this film. John H. Auer did a fantastic job effectively using the shadows to bring about the more sinister aspect of the film as we see Hayes Stewart’s face showing just how far he’s willing to go in order to tie up lose ends.Had this film just been shot any other way, this film’s would not have been as good as this.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:19 am
This is a bit slight, Flavio, and would’ve benefitted from more discussion of location shooting (backed up with concrete examples). 8/10
February 8th, 2018 at 12:40 am
The mechanical man’s position in the film is a very interesting one. He seems to be the only morally good character. Every other character has a bad side, but he doesn’t seem to show one. Personally I believe this ultimately hurts him as a character. I never once felt an interest in him. He’s portrayed as such a chump the whole time, falling in love with a stripper, stuck in a very mundane and degrading job. Perhaps this is a statement on the negative tone of the genre as a whole? That even the most moral characters are depressed and looked down upon.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:24 am
Good observations on character, Nick, but you should’ve spared a few more words for location AS character. 8/10
February 8th, 2018 at 3:57 am
The City that Never Sleeps is, as the blog post suggests, a Chicago classic. There is no better way to portray the heart and soul of Chicago’s grit nature than to make the main protagonist a bitter, corrupt, “burnt out” cop. The beauty in this film, at least for me, doesn’t come from the locations that it presents from the city, although nice. The beauty is within the characters development that Chicago builds tenacity and new life into ones heart. It is a City in which the crime levels are rampant and the corruption and dirty politics everywhere, and yet, the citizens have heart and work their butts off for what they believe in because of the atmosphere. Hard work and dedication in the city are viewed as “ideal” and those traits drive home in this film. You may not like what job you have, but in the city, it doesn’t matter. We will still give the job our 100% regardless. As the post suggests, this is presented by our main protagonist and the mechanical man. I also believe that film noir is best suited for a Chicago film mainly because the city has a noir “feel” that is easy to display on the big screen. Very well written piece.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:25 am
February 8th, 2018 at 10:27 am
I think that the use of chicago location really helped the movie. You wrote an interesting point that the lower budget sometimes the better the film would turn out (Film Noir) and I completely agree. I think that the less you spend, the more realistic it gets? I agree with a lot of what Ale said. Without the huge budget they are able to get more scenes that look a lot more gritty. Again i think that the use of real locations helps put the audience into the movie making it more immersive. I feel like if they had a bigger budget, they would be able to half ass it and fix it in post.
February 8th, 2018 at 10:51 am
You say that location shooting helps the film feel more realistic but you don’t cite any examples of specific locations that help to impart this sense of realism. Which locations made an impression on you? What did they look like? Think of yourself as a lawyer and show me the evidence! 7/10
February 8th, 2018 at 11:17 am
A really agree with your points about how this film is extremely underrated. To me, this film is Chicago, at least Chicago of that era. While North-side 777 is an all-around ‘wholesome’ film, it just doesn’t cut it like City does. I still get goosebumps thinking about that entry into the track chase scene. The use of the shots of the city elicited a feeling of belonging in this film, and a heightened experience. I literally felt as if this was happening in real time off in Chicago, and we as a class were watching it on some sort of live stream. The Wrigley building as well a the Merchandise Mart stop help conjure these same effects. For me the use of the refrigerator drop, and secret panels that Hayes Stewart uses to sneak into Pendell’s office,reminded me of my time as a child, and to my more recent years, when I would walk down a Chicago sidewalk, or into a ‘vintage’ office building and stare at those ornate sheets of metal and ponder as to what they did.This film finally answered those questions! I also appreciated how the ‘Guardian Angel’ was a Sergeant in the Police Force, a quite fitting rank as in the military and police the Sergeant is usually the guy who is saving everyone’s tale, and keeping everyone on the right track, as shown in the film. The tragic character of the ‘Mechanical Man’ really struck my heart, and when he delivered his little speech it drew tears from me. Really a tragic figure, and I definitely could see how Auer would color his own personal experience into Warren’s. It made me glad to see he got out alright, and ‘Angel Face’ straightened up and hopefully they went off to do the ‘Husband and Wife’ Act. Also I dream that a club such as the “Silver Frolics” still existed as my friends and I might frequent somewhat often. Still “The City that Never Sleeps” is one of my favorite new films and I plan on showing it to anyone who appreciates good cinema.
February 8th, 2018 at 11:21 am
February 8th, 2018 at 11:36 am
The City That Never Sleeps was a great film noir that used Chicago perfectly to fit the storyline. I agree with your statement that it gives “a look into the Windy City of a bygone era.” It was incredibly interesting to see how Chicago looked back then. A beautiful shot was actually the first and last one, the panoramic view of downtown Chicago. The only difference is that the opening scene was cloudy but still clear and you were able to see all the iconic Chicago buildings and the last scene was fogged over. The last scene gave the feeling that even though John Kelly had a rough night that leads to a change of heart the city would still continue on. Another iconic sight in the film was the Silver Frolics. It was interesting how that seemed to be the brightest part of the film. One thing that hasn’t really changed with time is Chicago’s back alleyways. This film benefitted from being a lower budget film. Though a lower budget film the acting was exceptional. John Kelly played a convincing beat down cop tired of the same old who eventually goes through a change of heart at the end. Hayes Stewart also played a convincing con-artist that became greedy and wanted more. Ultimately leading to a killing spree to save his own skin. The acting played an instrumental role alongside on-location shooting in making this a great film. It feels like because it was a lower budget film the storyline and creativity of location shooting were able to shine through.
February 8th, 2018 at 2:59 pm
February 8th, 2018 at 6:46 pm
“The City That Never Sleeps” was an excellent example of the quintessential film noir genre film that was prevalent throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 50s. The film was one in a long line of genre pictures that capitalized on the ordinary everyday kinds of people. Every aspect of this film was exceptional. I loved how the filmmaker, John Auer utilized the many shooting locations of Chicago in his film to create an aesthetic environment that represented the cynicism of the city. A primary example of this occurs in the climax of the film. In the final standoff between Kelly and Hayes Stewart, the film’s antagonist, they are on the train tracks of the Merchandise Mart stop. In this scene, we see the two men in a power struggle; where one man is trying to overpower the other. Every beat in this scene was meticulously executed in such a way to heighten the moviegoing experience. Specifically, the death of the film’s antagonist/ villain, Hayes Stewart.
In this final moments of this scene, his character is being electrocuted; and then conveniently falls down the train tracks to his death. There was a significant amount of symbolism in this scene as a result. I found this moment incorporated a significant amount of symbolism because of the way in which the villain dies is symbolic. After he is electrocuted, he literally falls from the tracks to his death; which was a metaphor for going to Hell. He was literally and symbolically going to burn in Hell for the rest of Eternity.
The theme of cynicism was evident throughout the entire narrative of the film. Specifically, with the morally ambiguous protagonist, John Kelly. John Kelly was essentially a decent man who has become emotionally disconnected and uninhibited with the routine structures of his everyday life; that it ultimately manifests itself in his pessimistic, emotionally withdrawn and detached personality. He has become so accustomed to his mundane existence; that he becomes this emotionally detached shell of a man which results in him having an affair with a stripper named Angel Face. Angel Face was also facing a similar identity crisis. Initially, she had aspirations of becoming a ballerina, but, was unfortunately, similar John, was emotionally defeated and made cynical by the ravages of time. Just like Kelly, Angel Face had to adapt to her environment.
Another theme that was prevalent throughout the film was the social construct of one’s identity and how your initial identity can be challenged by the hardships of time. However, I felt an instant metamorphosis and significant transformation in Kelly’s character development in his pursuit of the antagonist, gangster Hayes Stewart. He had a newfound sense of purpose in his life because now he has a newfound reinvigorated, resilient tenacity to keep fighting.
February 11th, 2018 at 2:15 pm
February 7th, 2019 at 8:24 pm
I really enjoyed watching “The City That Never Sleeps”. Even though the movie was released in the 1950’s, the filming was advanced for its time with action shots from the police cars and close up shots of the train rails which encouraged suspense. The title was both ironic and metaphorical. Ironic, because today New York City is considered “the city that never sleeps”. This shows that at one time Chicago was as popular of a city as New York is today during its time of film making. The metaphor plays in with the fact that the main character, Johnny, didn’t sleep the whole night and was reborn or re-awakened at the end.
In your article you mentioned “Kelly figures this will enable him to quit his job and run off to California with Angel Face in the morning. But, this being a true film noir, things don’t quite work out that way.” Before watching this movie, I assumed film noir would be extremely dark but in a way it’s just more realistic than most movies because you don’t expect a happy ending. That’s kind of like life because there are millions of people with dreams to become something or someone but ironically fall into becoming that one thing they didn’t want to become in the first place. In John’s case that was a police officer. In the end, he was portrayed as reborn but I think if he was still offered the opportunity to start a new life he would’ve. However, because his promised money was gone, he chose to accept his circumstances.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:36 am
February 7th, 2019 at 8:52 pm
I think the most overlooked detail of the film is the fact that Sally (Angel Face) is a stripper. Despite this being looked down on more often than not by society and individuals, the characters in the film did not seem to bat an eye. This adds to the darkness, grittiness and maybe even sleaziness to the film making it more of a noir film. When we look at noir we aren’t looking for “pretty” or “happy” or even “conclusive”, rather we’re looking for the things people don’t like to admit that they feel or do in real life, and “City That Never Sleeps” is a perfect example of that escape. Additionally, when we looked at how Hayes Stewart and John Kelly attempt to change their lives, it’s not something we would think to do if their realities were our own. Often if people are unhappy with their lives they do something legal and proactive in order to change or better them. Instead, both Stewart and Kelly are often seen in basements, Kelly in the beginning of the film when he heads to his cop car in the basement, and Stewart near the end of the film when he’s stalking Greg (Machine Man). Their use of basements within the film represents their more “underground” take on how to alter their realities for their own purpose, which ultimately fail for both of them.
Similarly to Sally’s career and role, Greg also has a more complex part in the film than meets the eye. His career is also one that is not incredibly respectable from a “traditional perspective.” Standing outside of a window for hours upon hours, doing nothing but moving every few seconds is a bit dreary and desperate. However, he is the one character who actually has nothing going for him, yet he has the most optimistic and hopeful role. In a review by Craig Butler, he says “Unfortunately, the character [John Kelly] is not developed sufficiently beyond that, which is also the case with the Wally Cassell “mechanical man” character; he, too, shows promise that goes unfulfilled…”I would heavily disagree with Butler’s ideas and say that he is the only one who seems to develop and be able to fulfill his dreams and actually change his reality, something that no other character within the film was able to accomplish.
As for location, the use of real Chicago footage is really what helped this film feel more dark. Had this been on a manmade Hollywood set, it would have been apparent and felt cheap. However, because everything was legitimate and honest, just like a noir is (no matter how hard we try avoid it), it made the film more respectable and even better than if it were an A-movie film. I agree with the sentiment as well when you say the use of real locations “only serve to add an impressive feeling of authenticity as well as a certain oddball charm when viewed today.” Despite this very much being not a realistic film, the use of location made it feel more genuine and more relatable than if it had been a fake, big-budget, Hollywood movie.
Lastly, the cinematography in the film was incredibly seamless and provided exactly the feelings you want from a noir/cop film that you want. When we are introduced to Stewart’s magical background, we see him transform a bunny into a gun and point it at his friend. Immediately following we see Penrod Biddel being shot by a camera. This seamless footage (spoilers) is actually foretelling of what is to come later one. The use of the camera facing the street while the cops were driving with their sirens on created a sense of urgency and fear. Despite what we knew was happening, it still created a feeling of unease and worry. The odd angles that were used to film created similar effects of unease and emphasized that things in their world were not “straight”, or as they should be. Lastly, the Rembrandt lighting used in almost every scene tied every aspect of noir together very effectively.
In conclusion, “City That Never Sleeps” was able to use even the most minor of plot points and cinematography to fully, effectively and successfully create the grittiness and sordidness of a true film noir.
February 7th, 2019 at 8:57 pm
Source: Craig Butler, https://www.allmovie.com/movie/city-that-never-sleeps-v9755/review
February 21st, 2019 at 11:38 am
Great job analyzing the importance of the characters’ jobs within the context of the story and good notes on the cinematography too! 10/10
February 8th, 2019 at 5:00 pm
The “City That Never Sleeps” is a hidden gem for many reasons. The movie came out in 1953 but it felt more modern from how it was shot. The movie had a mysterious person named Joe, used the city of Chicago well, and lastly, felt like a true noir film in the city of Chicago.
One aspect that doesn’t get enough credit for is Joe. Joe is John Kelly’s cop partner in “City That Never Sleeps”. Joe is a mysterious person and could be a figment of John’s imagination. Joe could also be John’s conscience. At the end of the movie, John and Hayes Stewart are fighting on the tracks of the “L”. One cop looks up and asks who’s up there, Joe without needing binoculars or trying to get close says back “That’s John”. Joe brought a mysterious presence to the movie that I thought worked well.
Another aspect that I thought worked well for the noir film was how they used the city of Chicago. The opening and closing scenes of the movie was the Wrigley Building. In the movie, they shot some scene right outside the club (Silver Frolics) where Angel Face (John Kelly’s girlfriend) works. I thought some of the better scenes were shot outside/ around the club. One cool scene that I thought was cool was when someone was escaping and went down a fire escape and needed to use his weight to get the stairs to go down. Lastly, I felt that they used the “L” well throughout the movie. I remember seeing it in the background or could hear it in the background of the movie. Lastly, they used the “L” for the final fight between John and Hayes, in which Hayes dies from touching the tracks and getting electrocuted and falling to his death.
I would say this movie is a very good example of a noir movie. This movie takes place at night, the ground looks slick, and has a bunch of hard-boiled people in the movie. One thing that doesn’t make it a total noir film (in my opinion) is that the main character didn’t smoke throughout the film and the use of smoke to make the movie look better aesthetically. There wasn’t a whole lot of smoke in the movie and to me that was disappointing.
Overall, I enjoyed “City That Never Sleeps”.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:38 am
February 11th, 2019 at 1:53 pm
“City That Never Sleeps” gave me a new perspective on B-Studio films. Prior to this movie, I was of the persuasion that such films amounted to no more than another one of Harry Zimm’s(Gene Hackman) monster movies in the 1995 hit, “Get Shorty”.
However, as “City That Never Sleeps” progressed, I began to view it in a whole new light. Adhering to what I know of noir films, I saw that the movie took the occasional departue from the traditional film noir format. For instance, the narration of the film was done through the city of Chicago itself, as opposed to the protagonist.
Additionaly, “Joe”, Kelly’s partner in-(stopping)-crime, has a certain arcane dispositon. Joe, to Kelly, could very well be a real, actual person. Or, could he be someone, someTHING else?
I eventually hit me:
Who IS Joe?
Is he an apparation? Kelly’s conscious personified? A human moral compass? The fact that we’re left with more questions than answers regarding his existance is fascinating to me.
Another feature of “City That Never Sleeps” that captivated me was the film’s use of our nation’s third-largest city. Akin to other early-era films, “City That Never Sleeps” revealed to us a “different” Chicago:
The one we don’t see.
We’re used to seeing Chicago in the light that this film’s openin credits depicted: Large, grandiose buildings, blocks upon blocks of busy city life, and a perpetual source of opportunity. Then, as the film’s first scne runs, we’re brought back down to Earth. Back down from the top floor of those gilstening steel skyscrapers. We see the people of Chicago, and one that are particularly miserable. From John Kelly, to Angel-Face, to the Mechanical Man, we learn one thing:
They’re all mechanical.
The monotonous, grey-visioned way of life these people lead is depressing, and each of them are clawing at a chance to escape. They were lied to. At least, they felt that way. In the end, all they had to do was emove their grey sunglasses. Suddenly, Chicago became just slightly more hopeful again.
Overall, I enjoyed watching “City That Never Sleeps”. It had the B-Studio noir grit, with A-Studio filming and overal appeal. It truly is a shame this film isn’t more well-known.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:40 am
Love your poetic thoughts on Joe and the Mechanical Man. The filmmakers are creating a sort of “spirit vs. machine” dialectic, aren’t they? 10/10
February 12th, 2019 at 12:43 am
Throughout watching “The City Never sleeps”, there was a lot of suspense and intense situations that had me on the edge of my seat. It is rare nowadays to experience a film noir film but this movie played a very good example of what I film Noir includes. A film Noir is popularly known for crime films and dramatic sexual scenes. These movies almost always have a criminal, a witness, and a detective.
The ending really depended on weather or not the criminals thought the mechanical man was real or not, if Angel Face had not been talking to the mechanical man about their getaway, the mechanical man would not have shed a tear therefore Penrod would not have shot and would not have gotten spotted. After Penrod shot the bullet, Kelly was able to track down the killer and the scene was about 20 minutes long consisting a chase and a final gundown.
Film Noir ws well used in this film because there were multiple scenes where it was nighttime and there was a lot of scenes where crimes happened during the night-time. Even though the film took a little while to develop my attention to be interested in the film, I did enjoy this film and I was very attracted to the scene as the last scene was approaching.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:40 am
February 12th, 2019 at 12:06 pm
In the movie “The City That Never Sleeps” we see a low budget B film that uses on site locations in order to make us see a rough side of Chicago at night. By doing this it falls perfectly in line in what we come to except in noir movies. By using dark and shady places such as the L-tracks or even dark alleys, that John Kelly chases the killer down (Hayes Stewart). It makes us feel like there is no safe place to hide or even be in the city. This is meant to help make a dramatic effect on us. By using Chicago’s locations you too could maybe walk down that dark alley, making the movie feel more “alive” then it really is. Over all I thing that the movie is a great classic and something that could strike fear into people in this current day and age.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:41 am
Good though this would’ve benefitted from more detailed examples. 9/10
February 13th, 2019 at 5:17 am
In the movie ” The City That Never Sleeps”, we see a very drawn out night and the “film noir” aspect place a very gloomy/dark feel to the film. Throughout the film, the character of John Kelly is that he really hates his life where it is right now, but as the film progresses throughout the film, there are glimpses of his character changing. One of those scenes is when he delivers the baby because when he handing it off and said to be gentle with the baby, that was a pretty early indication of a flip in character. The whole time he trying to find the courage to leave his life and try somewhere else, and the city life is bleak and everyone had to give up their dreams. Some of the shots I was impressed with. The scenes where the criminal lead John Kelly on a foot race use a lot of diverse shots and it felt quite modern. Towards the end of the film, both Mechanical man and John Kelly show emotion and I feel that its important to the film as a whole. At the end of this film, both Angel Face and John Kelly realize that their lives aren’t bad and decide to stay.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:42 am
Good but what exactly did the “diverse shots” look like? Why did they strike you as “modern?” 9/10
February 14th, 2019 at 9:50 am
“The City That Never Sleeps” (1953) is one unrecognized gem as both a film noir and a crime film. The film focuses on Chicago Police Officer John Kelly (Gig Young) and a night on patrol in the city as well as some of his transgressions while on duty. We learn that Kelly has become disgruntled with his job and is wanting to resign because he makes less money than his wife Kathy (Paula Raymond). It is also soon revealed that Kelly has a secret lover who is a stripper know as “Angel Face” (Mala Powers) who wants to run a way with Kelly to somewhere more beautiful. To do this however Kelly arrest Hayes Stewart (William Talman) and bring him to Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold) to receive his money. As Kelly chases do Stewart for the money and various crimes he commits along the way we as the audience see Chicago at night and it is reflected as dark, depressing and dirty city that is the perfect setting for the film as the characters attitudes and actions reflect the feeling of the city through and through until the very end. One thing that this film uses very well even though it may seem like a problem is shooting at a small number of locations and letting audience guess what the next big revelation in the movie is going to be. These are some of the many reasons “The City That Never Sleeps” (1953) is and underrated and and underappreciated gem of a film.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:42 am
February 14th, 2019 at 11:24 am
“The City That Never Sleeps” (1953) is filled with some problems that can actually relate to real life. John Kelly is a police officer that doesn’t really like his job and no longer has a happy life with his wife anymore and wants to run away with Sally “Angel Face” to California to live happier life. This is pretty similar to reality considering how many people despise their current position of employment and how some people even leave their spouse to be with someone else. It’s sad but also true. However, John Kelly decides not to run away to California and tells Sally this which does upset her. Also in love with sally face is Greg “Mechanical Man” Warren who acts as mechanical man to draw in attention for people walking by so they will walk inside the club. There is symbolism within this scene with such simplicity. It is that, in a way, we are all mechanical because we all try to do the same thing and we do it over and over again which is pretty much our lives. The stereotypical human which is also the most common in America, will first learn to walk and talk, go to school and get an education, get a job and make enough money to live off of and one day provide for the family you will start. Another character also known as the villain/antagonist of the film is Hayes Stewart and he is a magician but not the good kind as shown when he easily steals documents from Biddel’s (the man who Hayes is a protege of) bedroom safe and to rub it in Biddel’s face, he states that Biddel’s wife, Lydia, was his accomplice. Later on Biddel attempts to shoot Hayes, however, Hayes was to quick on the draw and fired a shot before Biddel could even aim his pistol, this merely injures and knocks him down instead of killing him. Hayes then states to Lydia that they need to leave quickly because people in the area will have definitely heard the shot. They then head to Sally’s club because Lydia, who is setting a trap, told him that he could meet a police officer named John Kelly who would be able to free him from the mess he was in. Hayes then heads into the club and goes upstairs where he finds John Kelly Sr. who states that he is going to arrest him. Hayes then shoots Kelly and Kelly’s partner and chases Lydia outside. Hayes then grabs Lydia who starts to beg for her life but is killed regardless by Hayes. Hayes then notices the mechanical man in the window and camps out in a building and waits to see if the man is a real or fake man. Sally then tells Greg that she loves him and this makes Greg cry and a lady outside points this out which let Hayes know that the man in the window was real and so he shoots him but only injures him. Immediately after, John Kelly seeks revenge on Hayes for killing his father and has a good old-fashioned cop and bad guy chase throughout the city of Chicago. It ends with Hayes being electrocuted by the elevated tracks and falling to his death, a classic way to finally get the criminal. In the end John decides to keep his job and stay with his wife Kathy. The film definitely used the locations in the city of Chicago well especially with the classic criminal being defeated on the elevated tracks ending. To be honest, this film definitely deserved more credit for the amount of work, thought, and creativity as well as symbolism put into it.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:42 am
February 14th, 2019 at 11:43 am
Kehr’s metaphor for the mechanical man is interesting in that what can be perceived as a bit part character can have such a deep impact on the direction of the film and vice versa. A smaller production company coupled with a genre that feeds on the wild and unpredictable gives the director, provide a rare opportunity for directors to breath creatively in the commercial world.
The mechanical man’s relentless passion for Angel Face combine a calm cynicism towards reality creating this constantly conflicted character that is pushed to background of Kelly’s wild night. This mixed bag of emotion is seen in Auer’s manipulation of film Noir.
The classic voice over narration takes on an omnipresent tone, perhaps a subtle reminder of the role that the city plays on Kelly’s night. The lack of a dominate femme fatale alters the tone of the film and ultimately creates another contrast from the typical Noir film ending.
The car chases, the stakeouts, the standoffs, all classic Noir scenes that build tension through actions and reactions of the characters. Auer relies on the Chicago to create the excitement and danger. Flipping the perspective of scenes in cars to face oncoming traffic signals the haste of the police cars. The canted shots of the street outside the Silver Frolics disjoint the constant tracking of the cops hunting down Hayes Stewart. The city becomes the wild card all Noir films need to keep everyone on their toes and Auer expressed that by putting the city’s grittiest and darker corners on full display.
To make a brief comparison to Orson Welles’s, “Citizen Kane”. Auer found himself in a rare space of creative freedom and combined that with the stylings of Film that live and breath off the creativity that seeps through the cracks of Hollywood studios.
P.S. If Auer does see himself as the Mechanical Man, then how will/would he react if Hollywood finally agrees to do that Husband and Wife show.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:44 am
I agree with Kehr (and you) that the Mechanical Man is sort of the symbolic heart of the movie (even though he’s not that important on a narrative level). The world of this film is so bitter though that it’s hard to imagine Greg and Sally happily married and doing a comedy show! 10/10
February 14th, 2019 at 1:04 pm
Firstly, I wanted to talk about the women in this film. Kathy, Sally, and Lydia. I find it curious how Sally is solely referred to as “Angel Face” in your writing and in class but I noticed she was only referred to as Angel Face once or twice in the whole film. Gregg and the other dancers only ever called her Sally, even Kelly called her Sally when he returned her phone call after Biddell appeared in her dressing room. I think especially during this time period since women were not usually the main focus of the film that they are deemed easily forgettable. I also found Kathy’s situation to be beyond depressing. She’s successful, cares about her husband and his family, and tries to make the effort to fix her marriage. Yet she comes to the conclusion that she will quit her job the next day so that Kelly feels less emasculated. In today’s world, Kathy would be the one leaving Kelly. A side note, I found it interesting that Auer decided to have Kathy’s mother just a voice screaming in the background but never showing her face or having a conversation with Kelly. She is faceless and yet I feel this was specifically chosen for the viewer to further sympathize with Kelly’s situation. That it must be hard to have a nagging mother in law. I felt no sympathy for him at that point. Finally Lydia, Biddell’s young wife who cheated on him with Hayes and turns out to be Hayes accomplice. I completely understand where she was coming from in her anger. I feel that many people, especially men find younger women and then offer them “a better life” but then spend so much time bragging to others how they are solely responsible for making them into this star of society. This completely ignores Lydia’s value as a human being, making her just a trophy to show off.
As I mentioned in class and then you added on to, there are very clear parallels between Sally and Kelly’s first conversation at the beginning of the film and Hayes and Lydia’s final conversation towards the end of the film. It brings up the whole idea of fragility. Though I feel Hayes is a terrible human being he and Sally are still two people in very unstable situations that don’t have a real future ahead of them. Hayes, a thief, and Sally, a stripper. They put all of their faith into people with lives very different from their own and a huge amount of stability. Kelly with a wife, home, a solid job. Lydia with a home, a husband, and a solid amount of money/social life. Both Hayes and Sally give up the bit that they have to entertain the fantasies of their partners, but are left disappointed and betrayed.
Kehr brings up an interesting thought. I think artists of any kind show of a reflection of themselves within their art. Gregg’s character really brings up the idea of humanity, what makes us human? He too brings up this feeling of being stagnant, never moving closer to your dreams or ambitions. Yet also not being able to be yourself in a commercial world. I can’t say for sure if that is what Auer felt, that he had all of these dreams but was not able to fully express them because that was not seen as important to a larger audience, but I do agree with Kehr in that he accepted his situation and made it into something great.
February 21st, 2019 at 11:55 am
Wow, thank you for these extended thoughts, Jade. This is a terrific feminist critique of the film! You argue all of your points persuasively – though I would like to defend Auer’s decision to have the mother-in-law represented by an off-screen voice. I would argue that, rather than making her character a “faceless” nagging mother-in-law, this eccentric choice makes it seem as though her voice represents Kelly’s subconscious (not unlike the voice of “Mother” in PSYCHO). 10/10
February 8th, 2020 at 7:21 pm
“The City that Never Sleeps” has a lot of symbolism in it, ranging from subtle to blatant if you pay attention. One aspect that was the most pronounced was Kelly’s “partner” Joe. From the very moment he was introduced, I knew something was off, like he was too convenient. In fact, when going through a second watch of the movie, I had to watch the scene when was introduced twice, because I thought I saw him come out of the shadows. There were other instances where you think that Joe is not real. One was when Kelly responds to the noise of the group of people who are gambling. When Kelly was talking to the men, you can see that all the men are staring at Kelly and not Joe the entire time. When the baby was delivered, the people were standing there, while it may seem like Joe existed, he does not talk and the audience does not seem to notice him. The most obvious way to tell that Joe was a guardian angel, was when he told the officer that the person on the track was Kelly, yes, how would you have known that another person was on the track if “Joe” hadn’t pointed it out to the officer with the bull horn. There are instances that Joe does interact with the world, albeit in small doses, when the men were putting Mr. Biddel on the stretcher, Joe appeared to help lift the stretcher. However, in that scene, Kelly is the only one talking while Joe is just standing there. While Kelly was being talked to, you can see that the two men in the room were occasionally staring at Joe, though just briefly, almost like they saw him but did not pay any attention to him. Another scene was when Kelly’s father died, I wonder if Joe was trying to protect Kelly from being killed. Biddel’s wife told the cops about Hayes killing Biddel. It was quite a coincidence that both Kelly’s shared the same exact name, and since neither of them had seen the younger Kelly before, Stewart thought that he was talking to the right cop. In the end the Narrator, who sounded like the Guardian Angel 😉 said “Johnny Kelly’s home, home to stay…”. Isn’t that the goal of your Guardian Angel, to keep you safe?
February 13th, 2020 at 2:55 pm
February 10th, 2020 at 9:46 pm
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie “City That Never Sleeps” and this review by Mr. Smith reflects the enjoyment I had while watching. All of the characters were extremely interesting and were played very well by the actors.
Like Mr. Smith says in his review, the role the Mechanical Man plays is very interesting. He sits in a window and has to play the role of a robot with no emotion whatsoever. His downfall was that he accidentally showed emotion and a man and a woman noticed when he did. This was only one of the characters that I really liked. The other character that really stood out to me was Biddell’s wife, Lydia. In the beginning of the movie it seemed like she had a wonderful life, nothing could go wrong for her. Loving husband, upper class, and has some friends as well. However, after betraying her husband, Biddell, things took a turn for the worse with her. After falling for Hayes, she realized that she didn’t want to be with him after she found out all the criminal stuff he’d done. So again, she took another 180 and betrayed Hayes, sending the cops after him. Things took a dark turn when Hayes realized she had betrayed him because she ended up dead in the middle of the street by his hands. I thought it was really interesting to see how much she changed her mind and the fact that it was her downfall as well.
Overall I really liked this film’s characters and plot. It was executed perfectly and wonderfully done by the producers. I would honestly recommend this to a friend. 10/10 film!
February 13th, 2020 at 2:55 pm
February 11th, 2020 at 12:49 pm
I think the film City That Never Sleeps, has made me a lover of black and white films. Perhaps not just a lover of black and white films, but more specifically the genre of film noir. That could also play into the fact film noir and the horror genres have a lot of similarities.
I particularly enjoyed the supernatural elements in City That Never Sleeps. These features are prevalent in the opening and closing scenes of film, as well as making us question is Officer Kelly’s mother-in-law really present in the film? Was that his and his wife’s conscious that we could hear? Additionally, its impossible to ignore that Officer Kelly spent the duration of the film having the city of Chicago (Joe) as his partner for the night.
Also, the film really keeps your attention as we follow different characters such as Officer Kelly, Sally, Hayes, and Gregg whose lives really haven’t turned out as they had hoped. Which in relation to the “American dream”, a lot of people can relate their own lives to. Auer does an amazing job at getting the audience invested in each individual’s story. I couldn’t help but to almost shed a tear as Gregg starts to cry!
The use of the Chicago locations throughout the film, even just the street shots as Officer Kelly and Joe are responding to different calls throughout the night, put you on the edge of your seat! It was like the angles and lighting put you in the front seat.
Finally, I found the film’s ending so beautiful. Though the aftermath of the night was a lot of tragedy, there was also a lot of beauty. The final scene leaves you in a poetic haze as we watch Officer Kelly return home and hear the city start to speak.
February 13th, 2020 at 2:33 pm
This made you love black-and-white films and/or film noir? As a film studies instructor, that is music to my ears! 10/10
February 12th, 2020 at 5:06 pm
I liked this review. But there are other dimensions to City That Never Sleeps. Yes, it was a noir film effective on a lower budget. There are exceptions such as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.
Johnny Kelly is fed up with his life. He is living in a noir world. He never gets a break.. Kelly accepts bribes, he can’t trust anyone. His wife makes more money than him. He wants to quit the force and leave town with “Angel Face” Sally Connors. People in this world put on a false face of decency to hide the fact that they are not an angels.
Johnny’s fight with Hayes Stewart on the el tracks was a good Chicago film
location. But you had here a metaphorical scene. It shows what life is like to be corrupt in a noir world. You have to walk carefully along the tracks and avoid any wrong step. like stepping on a live wire subway track, where your life could be electrocuted.
To understand Noir, you must look at the world after World War II. Russia had taken over half of Europe, and had the atomic bomb. Joe McCarthy was on a communist witch hunt. If you had done anything in the 1930’s, like attend a communist party meeting, your life was ruined. Your neighbor could snitch on you. Any minute there could be an atomic war or a communist take over from within. Their were E.T sightings on the increase after the war. Earth could be invaded. This was a part of the mindset.
And there was the element of the femme fatale. This a woman who uses her sexually to manipulate the male protagonist. She pretends to love the man, but really is after wealth and power. This often leads to a bad outcome. Sally only wants to leave town with Johnny if he as money in this pocket. When he runs out of money, she will ditch him.
Steven Futransky 2-12-2020
February 13th, 2020 at 2:42 pm
I like that you provide more historical context for the film noir movement here, Steve. I would argue, however, that if there is a femme fatale in CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS, it isn’t Sally. It’s Penrod’s wife, Lydia! 10/10
February 12th, 2020 at 5:42 pm
After reading this review I tried to think about some things that stood out to me. During the film you see John as a miserable man that is really only trying to do things for himself without the thought of anyone else. The only time that he is shown as a nice person was when he helped deliver a child and told his fellow officer to be careful handling the baby. What stood out to me was the review saying that John was “a good hearted guy”. Throughout the film he was always doing something for himself until a switch finally flipped in his head after the incident with his father at the nightclub. From then on John realized what he needed to do and went back to his wife. The other thing I wanted to comment on was the filming in general. I’d have to say that my favorite part of the film was the ending chase scene that ultimately ended on the tracks. Throughout the scene you see different shots and angles of the two along with different levels of the city like main streets, to rooftops, and then the L tracks. If it was shot any other way I don’t think it would’ve had the build up like it did. Overall, this was an awesome film to watch and I’m excited to see what’s next.
– Michael Parlich
February 13th, 2020 at 2:55 pm
February 12th, 2020 at 7:23 pm
I agree that the low budget makes the film better. Many of the artistic choices in this film are a bit far-fetched. For example, choosing to make Johnny Kelly’s partner not exist, and serve as a physical embodiment of the spirit of the city, despite the fact that the film is supposed to be very realistic. Even though this is a strange choice, it works well. This is the kind of artistic choice that would be tampered with by a studio, if they were more involved. The budget also required many scenes to be filmed in the streets, which greatly enhanced the realism.
I also agree that the use of Chicago locations enhanced the film. It felt like we were watching a real night on the job as a Chicago cop. This look could not have been achieved in a studio. The film is held together by these scenes of Johnny and Joe on the job. The scenes on the streets would have felt inauthentic and distracted from the film if they were filmed on a set.
I also think that cinematography is phenomenal. The canted angles add a sense of dread to the scene where Johnny waits for Hayes Stewart to reveal himself by trying to kill Greg. The shots of the cop car racing between cars whenever they turn on the sirens added to the excitement of the film. The use of lighting and shadows is a bit unrealistic, but makes for some interesting shots. The use of camera position when Johnny chases Hayes Stewart on foot added to the tension of the scene. The cinematography was very effective in telling the story.
Overall, I do think that this film is a better representation of Chicago than “Call Northside 777”. The characters feel more real (despite one of them not being real). The story focuses around Chicago more. For example, the climax of “City That Never Sleeps” takes place on the “L”, while the climax of “Call Northside 777” takes place in Springfield. Also, much of “City That Never Sleeps” is a Chicago cop on night patrol. Whereas, “Call Northside 777 is more focused on a story of a false conviction that, despite being a true story that actually took place in Chicago, is not an inherently Chicago story. “City That Never Sleeps” also simply explores more of the city. I mean, one of the characters is even a physical embodiment of the city! Both movies are great examples of Chicago film. However, “City That Never Sleeps” is the better representation of Chicago film.
– Ethan Lavaccare
February 13th, 2020 at 2:56 pm
February 12th, 2020 at 7:52 pm
The film’s use of Chicago scenery really played into the story. The massive buildings in the skyline to the dark alleyways all helped focus the scene on certain emotions. The lighting made it even more emphasized. The characters hiding away in the darkness of the night or stepping into the light.
The idea of a burnt out cop wanting to ditch everything and start anew sounds like a terrible protagonist. Kelly seems like he doesn’t care for anything in the city but this is quickly shown false when he delivers the baby. This is the beginning of Kelly’s redemption, where he tries to wrong his unlawful cop behavior. Kelly being tired of his job is a very realistic attitude someone could have, especially in the city. As you said in this review, the film is grittier and more honest about its feelings. Various characters are stuck where they are and want to leave and just can’t. Kelly takes one final job, hoping the money will be enough to leave, and Gregg is willing to potentially die to escape being the mechanical man. The film has many different takes on how to deal with failed dreams and the characters
mirror each other for hopes and coping mechanisms.
When Gregg goes out in the window to draw out Stewart, he must act like a robot, cold and emotionless. Sally does not want him to put himself in danger and begs him to come down from the window. Sally’s efforts to save Gregg’s life are what ultimately put him in danger as Sally cause Gregg to cry tears of joy and reveal he is not a mechanical man, causing Stewart to shoot. This is the opposite of Kelly and his father, where Kelly missed the called and his father took it instead. The mix up with both referring to themselves as “Officer Kelly”. Attempting to help with communicating, Johnny Sr. dies leaving Johnny with a need to catch Stewart.
February 13th, 2020 at 2:56 pm
February 12th, 2020 at 11:40 pm
10/10 What a wonderful and insightful review–clear evidence of why you are the professor and we are your students. For my part, I heartily agree that City That Never Sleeps easily trumps Call Northside 777 as the best “Chicago movie” of all time.
City begins with a long pan of the Chicago skyline; as the camera pans left, the skyscrapers seem to rise higher into the sky. The camera comes to rest on the Wrigley Building centered in the shot, with the dark, gothic Tribune Tower rising on the far left side of the frame. These two buildings also figure prominently in the beginning of Northside and visually set up that film’s thematic dichotomy of dark vs. light.
In City, the Wrigley Building remains in the center of the frame as the credits continue to roll, its white facade standing in stark contrast to the darker buildings all around it. When the credits stop, a voiceover begins. Throughout the voiceover, night falls on the city; the lights in the Wrigley Building are the first to come on, again setting the building apart from its dark neighbors. The narrator’s nearly monotonous voice firmly grounds viewers in the contrasts of the nation’s second-largest city, centered in its Midwest:
“I am the city, hub and heart of America. Melting pot of every race, creed, color, and religion in humanity. From my famous stockyards to my towering factories, from my tenement district to swank Lake Shore Drive, I am the voice, the heartbeat of this giant, sprawling, sordid and beautiful, poor and magnificent city of civilization.” As he begins his next sentence, the shot cuts to a close up of the white Wrigley building rising into the darkness of the night: “And this is the story of just one night in this great city.” The camera then pans down and left into the streets of the city as the narrator introduces some of the film’s key players.
This opening clearly places the film in the noir tradition, but it also illustrates a key difference of City: in this film, goodness and light will ultimately triumph over evil and darkness. In fact, the Wrigley Building, representing the light, appears again near the end of the dark night of the soul of both the city and the film’s protagonist, John Kelly. Throughout the film, Kelly has been slipping into darkness, tempted by the “sordid and the beautiful” articulated in the opening narration. Ironically, it is in the darkness of the city’s “tenement district” (looking very much like post-war Vienna) where Kelly’s humanity asserts itself, and it is in the light of “swank Lake Shore Drive” where Kelly succumbs to the city’s depravity. Kelly’s travels through the darkness of this one Chicago night lead to a tragedy when he loses a pillar of light and goodness in his life. It is at this point that the film’s climactic chase that prominently features the Wrigley Building occurs.
I love your connection to Reed’s The Third Man. Where that film’s climactic chase ends in Vienna’s sewers, director Auer and cinematographer John Russell have their characters descending the city’s fire escapes in canted shots, racing through eerily lit alleys, running up stairs and ladders and across rooftops to culminate in a showdown on Chicago’s iconic elevated tracks. Throughout this chase, the Wrigley Building is shown, rising white in the darkness three different times. The mise en scene, camera angles, lighting, and editing help elevate (as it were) this chase scene to a level of art not often achieved in low-budget movies. Although the chase scene pales when compared to that in the much higher-budgeted The Third Man, parts of City almost feel like homage to Reed’s work four years earlier. In fact, antagonist Hayes Stewart’s (masterfully acted by William Tallman) electrocution and slow, slithering slide through the train tracks to the alley below reminded me of Harry Lime’s fingers stretching open and then slowly slipping through the sewer grate.
The prominence of Chicago’s iconic white Wrigley Building throughout the final chase reinforces Kelly winning the battle, defeating the cop killer (reminding this viewer of the cop killer plot element of Northside). Interestingly, after the climactic scene on the Merchandise Mart el platform, Kelly is next seen inside an enormous Catholic church from which he carries out his broken and battered brother (again reminding this viewer of the prominence of the Polish Catholic Church that symbolizes hope, faith, and victory near the end of Northside). Kelly next accepts his badge back, realizes the act of grace that has brought him through the darkness, and then is reborn into the morning light and the loving arms of his wife–a most un-noirish ending to a movie that masterfully plays with and against the conventions of the genre, using the city of Chicago as so much more than setting. The city in the film’s title embodies the contradictions that make life a beautiful struggle and City a beautiful film.
February 13th, 2020 at 2:56 pm
February 13th, 2020 at 1:23 am
One of the things I found most interesting about this blog post was that filmmakers left Chicago to go to California. It’s crazy to think that if they hadn’t made that move, maybe Chicago would be the Hollywood of todays age. Still, I think they would’ve moved eventually either way, just because it’s warmer and such.
Either way, I thought The City That Never Sleeps was a brilliant movie, that wrapped up their characters perfectly. The way that the Mechanical Man and his job came into effect at the end, I never would’ve seen that coming. Kudos to the writers. Personally, I liked CITY better than 777, but only because it had a more action packed and continuous plot; there was always something going on or something new being added. I love a good movie and I would definitely recommend this to friends.
February 13th, 2020 at 2:57 pm
Good – but a bit lacking in concrete detail (from either the film or my review). 9/10
February 13th, 2020 at 2:11 am
John H. Auer’s City That Never Sleeps is a film-noir in the truest sense. From it’s self-awareness of the type of film it’s being made out to be, the characters that try to fulfill their ideologies is relatable; albeit in a dark way. We all have hopes and dreams but sometimes, we have to settle for the next best thing just to put food on the table. That’s what the characters of this film encompass. From Kelly’s reluctance of being a police officer to Angel Face’s aspiring dreams to become a ballerina, the film showcases the hardships of life and it’s presented in a honest, genuine way and it’s not fabricated in a way that doesn’t seem too unrealistic. The film provokes relevant themes such as “The American Dream” and what it means to truly attain that fantasy. How much will you sacrifice to attain it? That’s what several characters in this film have to decide and it’s done superbly.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this film is its setting and numerous amounts of real locations the filmmakers sought after to shoot. From the iconic strip clubs and many more, Auer provided a sense of atmosphere that brings this dark, gloomy and eerie vibe throughout the film. We know that this film is not a comedy(even though there is funny moments in the film) it is a noir and we have to see the characters go through turmoil until one side wins.
The cinemaphotography was another highlight of this film as it went out of its way to show exhilarating new shots to make the film stand out more among audiences compared to the shots everyone else was using back then. The lighting that contrasted the different tones as it got darker and darker showing how the ending would play out until it becomes bright again, symbolizing a new light at the end of the tunnel. City That Never Sleeps is a film that should be talked about more often in terms of the cultural impact the film had on Chicago, but also Hollywood as a whole.
February 13th, 2020 at 2:57 pm
February 13th, 2020 at 10:13 am
“City That Never Sleeps” is hands down the most “Chicago” movie that I have seen. The ahead of its time style of shooting becomes apparent throughout the film and keeps you hooked from the jump. Some examples of this were the intense point of view shots that mad the viewer a bit unsettled; such as Hayes running towards to the camera as he tries to escape Kelly, or what seemed like the camera on the front bumper of a police car. The Hitchcock style of shooting instantly grabs the audience for an anxiety filled experience.
Directly comparing the two, I believe that “City That Never Sleeps” felt more like a Chicago film then “Call Northside 777” because of the realism through characters such as Kelly and Angel Face. Early in the movie, they both believe that running off to LA together will somehow better their already miserable lives. One thing that struck in my mind right away was “what the hell is Kelly going to do in LA?” I understood that Angel Face could potentially advance in her dreams of becoming a ballerina but was Kelly just going to be a cop again and hate it? The trend of cynicism in the film is usually portrayed by Kelly; he wants to do bigger things than be a cop like the rest of his family. Arguably though, Kelly had a good job as a Chicago police officer! He was respected by citizens and other officers. It becomes clear that he was making a decent living for himself when his father says “we learn to cut corners” to Kathy Kelly when she implied that he must get by well with a policeman’s salary and all his kids.
One last thing that plays to Kelly’s cynicism, is the lack of it by The Mechanical Man. He doesn’t exactly have the most rewarding or dignified job, but seems to be the most positive character in the film in regards to his content with life and the future. He is constantly making up comedy skits for him and Angel face to perform together where he plays a nagging husband. You can see the pure joy in his face when he speaks about his artistic ideas and no one else in the film portrayed that. In the end though, his positive gratitude towards life allowed him not to be killed and for him to win the woman of his dreams; one step closer to the big stage for The Mechanical Man!
February 13th, 2020 at 2:58 pm
February 13th, 2020 at 10:55 am
First off, iv’e gotta say that at the beginning of the semester I was never really into old films from this era and I thought they were corny, but it’s really growing on me. It’s important to state that films from this time had a totally different tone of storytelling than the ones today, and that is simply what makes these films unique because we can’t get more of this content anymore. When we watched Call Northside 777 I was kind of surprised at how good it was. So when we watched this film, The City That Never Sleeps, It clearly showed that it was a better movie. It was more straight to the point, suspenseful, emotional, relative, and filmed in a strategic way.
On top of the story being very good, I was mesmerized by the way it was filmed. It was a bit different than CN777, being more action packed and using lots of moving cameras for takes. There were great filming angles that captured what was going on when nobody knew, like when criminal magician Hayes Stewart sneaks his way in and out of opening a safe, and leaving by pretending to be police after they left. It’s also important to note the way the police car was filmed making those fast turns from a POV angle, and suspenseful takes like the finale between Stewart and officer John Kelly on the elevated train platform
I loved the scene where Hayes Stewart is trapped between two trains going opposite directions. I could just imagine seeing his shocked face looking up at me as I look outside on my commute.
I could see the story as being more relative and connectable than CN777 even though CN777 was based off a true story. I’m sure there were lots of people going through something that John Kelly was experiencing throughout the movie. His emotions are visually read rather than admitted and I was very happy to see the happy ending. John Kelly realizes that he should just stop, take a look around, and appreciate what he’s already got in life. His wife loves him, and so do the people he works with. He doesn’t have to run away with anybody. Chicago is home.
February 13th, 2020 at 12:01 pm
With so many films that have been made over the years, the term “masterpiece” comes up so often. Of course this is always open to interpretation, but in most instances I find it to be correct. Such is the case with City that Never Sleeps. John H. Auer does in fact have quite the masterpiece with this film. Upon watching Northside 777, thanks to you, I was introduced to a world I didn’t even know existed. That world is Chicago’s role in the history of cinema. It has been quite refreshing to learn of this history.
Simply put, I totally agree with you when it comes to City. Auer shows us quite a story in this film. He is even able to integrate the very “soul” of Chicago in it. The best part is that it is quite subtle and could be missed. Auer really shows that he is quite masterful at his craft.
How many people have felt the way officer John Kelly feels, burnt out in life and wanted a fresh start? Maybe most people would not admit it, but the way Auer shows this is just amazing. Also, by using actual locations in Chicago, this gives the film such an authentic feel. Nowadays this is often lost due to the use of advanced technology. To see Chicago in its heyday is just awesome.That is not something that can be replicated today. It really adds a “real” feel to the film.
Another thing that makes this film so great, are the characters. The “Mechanical Man” Gregg Warren, Angel Face, Joe, Penrod Bidell, and Haye Stewart just to name a few. When you look at each character, each has their own identity, and their own problems, yet Auer presents them in such a way that they all make sense in the whirlwind that is City. Whether you like them or hate them, you can still somehow identify with each character. To call this film a Masterpiece is very accurate. Thanks for showing it and for what you wrote. Spot on!
February 13th, 2020 at 2:58 pm
February 13th, 2020 at 2:40 pm
I enjoyed Mr. Smithes review on the film for a fewmany reasons. I agree with the metaphor about the mechanical man that Kehrs. The impact the one character who seems like a non important part can be the hidden message that John Auer was sending to the audience. It’s interesting to see the elements scenes that the movie has. For the era and budget of the film, the movie had a special element that, as mentioned, could not have been imitated even by the hugh budget hollywood film. The police car shots, the location shooting, the “actualities” feel of the movie all bring an element of film that is ahead of its years. Personally I thought the film brought a unique way of presenting messages all throughout the film while also showing the audience a well compositioned film that flowed.
February 13th, 2020 at 2:59 pm
Good overview but the elements of the film that you describe as years ahead of their time? WHY do they strike you that way? What about them specifically feels more advanced? 9/10
February 15th, 2020 at 3:23 pm
From the locations, to the personal dialogue/struggles of the main characters and the eerie sense of depression make this film really special. There were a couple of breathtaking shots of the Wrigley building, one that I particularly loved was the perspective you get from the alleys during the Kelly’s chase of Hayes Stewart. The use of the Loop was impressive given the budget and the time this piece was filmed.
I really internalized that sensation you described of hitting rock bottom when Johnny describes his desperation and sense of angst and suffocation. The climax at the Golden Frolics really worked for this film due to its low budget as all the characters, Johnny, Angel Face and Greg all meet their truths in the chaos of emotions post shooting of Kelly Sr. The movie asks us how we are to regain our humanity after their ideals and values are beaten out of you and each of the characters embrace that in their own way at this point in the film. This also overarches into the actual making of the movie as Auer had to fundamentally accept his precarious position within the industry.