The Sleeping City (1950)
Alternating between good guys and hoods in the world of Noir, Richard Conte, plays it tough as a cop this time going undercover to find a killer in the medical field for this black and white thriller from director George Sherman.
Conte even serves as the host over the first couple minutes introducing himself to the paying audience and explaining where the role is going to take him and why. The clip plays more like it’s meant for the trailer than the actual film. Can’t say I liked it but thankfully the mystery picks up steam shortly thereafter. When a weary looking intern takes a smoke break outside the doors of Bellvue Hospital in New York he’s brutally shot down on a nearby pier by an unseen killer. Cue the police detectives looking for answers by grilling the hospital staff looking for a motive and who pulled the trigger. Among the cops you’ll spot a young uncredited Robert Strauss in his first screen appearance already playing his part like a seasoned veteran. Strauss would quickly become a well known character actor thanks to showy roles in films like Stalag 17 and plenty of television work throughout the decade.
We’ll also meet our leading lady, Coleen Gray, on hand as a hospital nurse and supposedly engaged to the murder victim.
With no leads the Chief Inspector, John Alexander, decides to send in undercover detective Richard Conte as an intern. Fortunately Conte has medical school training and he served as a front line medic in WW2. This latest assignment allows him to play it like a double agent with another undercover cop driving ambulance so that Conte has a contact he can pass on vital bits of information too when he uncovers them.
His new pay if you’re interested, is at a salary of $50 a month for a 1950’s intern in New York City. He’s assigned to two key positions in our story. First off he’s placed in the same ward as Coleen Gray and there’s an instant chemistry in the air as the flirtations begin. Secondly he’s assigned to share an apartment room with another young intern played by Alex Nicol. Like Strauss, Nicol is also making his feature film debut. Movie fans may know him best for his sadistic role opposite James Stewart in the very Noir like western, The Man From Laramie.
Nicol seems to be angry at the world and is at first cold and hard towards Conte while Miss Gray is the opposite. Conte will get through the tough exterior of Nicol though there’s still trouble lying beneath the surface and when Conte’s roommate turns up dead of an apparent suicide, Conte begins to piece the mystery of the two deaths together.
This leads to an amusing bit when Conte is grilled by a new detective assigned to the most recent death. Not knowing Conte is undercover, the detective is all over Conte’s alibi looking for him to slip up and put the cuffs on him. Case closed? Not quite.
Rather than give away too much of the last half of the film I guess it’s rather obvious to point out that Conte will place himself next in line to be murdered by the film’s antagonists once his police skills put him on the right track. Twists and turns, a psychotic villain, a well shot shootout by Sherman, and maybe a femme fatale are lying in wait for Conte who by this time had become well versed in Noir with titles like Thieves Highway, Cry of the City and Call Northside 777 under his belt.
Like her costar Conte, Miss Gray, was also by this point in her young career no stranger to Noir. She’d already appeared in two of the genre’s more memorable features, Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley. Gray would remain busy in both movies and television for the balance of her career. Movie titles include Red River, The Killing and The Leech Woman. On TV she could be spotted in popular fare like Perry Mason, McCloud and even soap operas like Days Of Our Lives.
Cigarettes? Yes they’re puffed on in abundance as any connoisseur of classic era Noir should expect. Knowing what we do today about the effects of chain smoking it’s rather amusing to see all these doctors and interns puffing their lungs away. After all it’s a cigarette break that led to the death of our first victim proving that those cancer sticks do indeed kill. In this case just a bit quicker than the young intern suspected.
If the name George Sherman is familiar it’s likely due to his association with John Wayne. Sherman directed a number of Duke’s early Three Mesquiteers films and later on when his career was coming to an end, Duke, brought him back to helm one of his most popular later day films, Big Jake, in 1971. In the years between those Duke movies, Sherman directed numerous action affairs like The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, Tomahawk, Border River and Hell Bent For Leather.
If truth be told my main reason for making this a first time watch is the presence of Richard Conte. I’ve long been a fan of the eventual Godfather co-star. Thankfully Sleeping City turned up on blu ray from Kino Lorber in one of their Noir box sets which allowed me to finally catch up with this above average thriller that satisfied my thirst for a 1950’s go around in the world of Noir.
Give this one a look if the opportunity presents itself and if you’re not already a fan of Mr. Conte or maybe even unaware of him, hopefully this will lead you to seek out more of his many roles in both Noir and other genres.
Richard Conte 1910-1975.