Fritz Lang first made his mark in Germany during the short-lived Wiemar Republic in between the two world wars. Lang had immigrated from his native Austria to Berlin, where he made quite an impression during the silent era, directing such landmark masterpieces as "M" and "Metropolis". However, the rise of National Socialism repulsed him. He spawned an offer to make propaganda films for the Nazis and discreetly left the country before the worst aspects of Hitler's regime became reality. In Hollywood, Lang found he was welcomed by studios and was consistently employed on films for the major studios. However, Lang was working under constraints that early German cinema did not have, namely, the dreaded Hays Code, under which Hollywood engaged in self-censorship in order to prevent government oversight of film content. Consequently, many of the films directed by Lang in Hollywood were largely routine, run-of-the-mill productions although occasionally, he oversaw a true gem that reminded viewers of his genius. One of Lang's last American films before he returned to Germany was "While the City Sleeps", a tightly-wound 1956 urban thriller that was one of the first major productions to deal overtly with a serial killer.
The story opens on a harrowing note with a pre-credits scene in which an attractive young woman has her apartment entered by a delivery man who had previously stopped at her apartment. In short order, he subjects her to a horrific death. The murder quickly becomes big news and Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), the elderly owner of The Sentinel, the city's most influential newspaper, barks orders that the search for the murder has to be played to the hilt in order to increase circulation. However, Kyne soon passes away, leaving control of The Sentinel to his son, Walter (Vincent Price), an inept elitist with a penchant for high living. Walter is well-aware that he is ill-equipped to run a major media organization that also includes a television network. He quickly alienates his most seasoned staffers and devises a Trumpian strategy of dangling a promotion in front of his three top reporters, thus causing the colleagues to turn on each other amid a chaotic environment of backstabbing. Walter has informed the competing journalists that the first man to solve the murder will get the job, then sits back and cruelly enjoys his manipulation of them. The staffers are old hands at getting big stories. Mark Loving (George Sanders) is a snooty newsroom editor who is romancing Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), the office vamp and resident gossip columnist. Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) is a cigar-chomping old time veteran reporter who quickly compromises his pride in the hopes of nailing down the promotion. James Craig is Harry Kritzer, an oily top reporter who is secretly romancing Walter's wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), who enjoys making her husband an unknowing cuckold while at the same time manipulating Harry by threatening to withdraw her sexual favors. The central character in the story, however, is Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), The Sentinel's top reporter and their celebrity on-air news anchor. Mobley, a chain-smoking cynic, wants no part of Walter's cruel ploy to win a promotion through sacrificing professional integrity. Edward, too, is involved in the hotbed of interoffice romances, and becomes engaged to Loving's secretary Sally (Nancy Liggett).
The interesting script for "While the City Sleeps" meanders but in a positive way. These are all fascinating enough characters to make the sordid aspects of the serial killer plot take second place. Mobley is an especially interesting character and far from the knight in shining armor found in many films of this era. He smokes and drinks too much and even alienates Nancy by almost succumbing to the sexual advances of Mildred. He loathes working for Walter but is too comfortable in his job and celebrity status to leave. Working with some inside tips from a friendly police detective (Howard Duff), Mobley comes up with a strategy for luring the killer into the open by using Nancy as bait. This kicks the murder plot into overdrive in the final section of the film and adds considerable suspense to the proceedings.