Movie: The Sleeping City (1950)

Coleen Gray has a great little speech in this movie.  She’s a nurse and she and a doctor (played by Richard Conte) are taking a smoke break on a balcony.  Gray’s speech is a surprisingly grim assessment of humanity.  Curiously, the actual image in this scene is greyer than anything in any other movie I can think of—it was like the scene wasn’t taking place in day or night, but in some bizarro limbo.  When she realizes how far serious she was getting, she turns to Conte, smiles and asks

“Are you filled with fear and hatred?”

Conte (also smiling): “All the time”

“Great!  Then you’re bound to be a great man”

This is nice moment, and in one of the better noirs I have seen. 

Which I am happy to report after the movie starts off on the wrong foot, with a fourth-wall breaking introduction from Richard Conte directly to the audience.  I despise these kinds of intros and this one is downright bizarre, with Conte not only thanking Bellevue Hospital for their assistance but even extending it into a little commercial for the establishment.  He explains this story is fictitious Compounding the awkwardness, Conte looks increasingly awkward as he fails to sustain eye contact with the camera.  This may be the first time I have seen a fourth-wall break that is too shy to look the audience in the eye.

Once we’re past this, we cut to a scene of a hospital doctor ending his shift and going for a groggy walk outside.  We follow him down sidewalks and to the waterfront, where he turns suddenly and gets shot in the face.  I imagine a young Scorsese saw this and took copious notes.

To investigate the death, the police decide to do some undercover work in the hospital, and they have just the man for it.  Turns out Conte almost became a doctor before joining the PD so, after establishing a cover story and fake credentials, he ends embroiled in a criminal enterprise operating out of the hospital.

Aside from the movie’s introduction, the only thing I struggled with is the idea of having somebody who isn’t a doctor practicing medicine in a hospital.  Imagine if you were a patient a faux-doctor worked on, there was a mistake and you later learned the person who injured you isn’t, in fact, a doctor.

The Sleeping City is a very solid noir and a movie I would recommend to those new to the genre.  The story is interesting, the dialogue sometimes has a bit of a snap to it and the cast is good–notably Coleen Gray, who is very easy on the eyes in her nurse’s outfit, and John Alexander (Teddy from Arsenic & Old Lace!), who is thankfully not in a nurse’s outfit.

Dir: George Sherman

Starring Richard Conte, Coleen Gray, John Alexande,r Peggy Dow

Watched on Kino Lorber blu-ray