The Best of Film Noir – City That Never Sleeps

Best of Film Noir - City That Never SleepsThis week in The Best of Film Noir, we’re taking a look at the movie, City That Never Sleeps.  As Eddie Muller, a film noir expert, says:

Any movie that is narrated by the city itself earns special honors for cinematic chutzpah.  Plus, its got Marie Windsor and William Tallman as lovers.  That’s noir.

City That Never Sleeps stars Gig Young as Johnny Kelly, a Chicago cop who is tired of his job and his wife.  He plans to leave his wife for stripper Sally Angel Face Connors, played by Mala Powers.  And things get complicated from there…hey, it’s film noir, what did you expect?

The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero

In City That Never Sleeps, the movie follows a lot of different characters, but the main one is Johnny Kelly, played by Gig Young.  Having watched Gig Young in a number of other movies (he was in Kid Galahad with Elvis Presley…yep, it’s true), it’s hard to picture Young as a noir hero.  Kelly is basically a good guy, but he becomes corrupted by his aspirations and he slowly spirals downward as he helps a crooked lawyer (Edward Arnold).  As with most film noir, as you watch City That Never Sleeps, you know things are going to go badly for Kelly.

The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Style

The interesting thing about City That Never Sleeps is that it’s filmed as a noir documentary or a semi-documentary (somewhat popular at the time).  Because of this, there really isn’t a femme fatale (we could even argue that Kelly isn’t truly a noir hero).  This style of filming also can feel very campy, certainly if you compare the movie to today’s standards.  Having the city narrate the film worked in the stellar The Naked City, but it doesn’t work so well in City That Never Sleeps.  So what makes this film noir good, or even great?

The Best of Film Noir – The Minor Characters and More

As Eddie Muller and others (Steve Eifert) have noted, William Talman brilliantly plays a low-life former magician and Marie Windsor, wife to lawyer Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold) is spectacular as well.  Along with their great performances, there is some wonderful cinematography.  Some of the Chicago night scenes are vivid and dark, giving us that film noir feel, and there are some great chase scenes, too.

Is this brilliant film noir like we expect in some of the other films reviewed here?  No.  You might even laugh or cringe a few times.  But if you like film noir, City That Never Sleeps is worth the watch.

The Best of Film Noir – Trivia

Believe it or not, I haven’t found any goofs in City That Never Sleeps, but I do have one piece of trivia.  Tom Poston (best known for comedic roles on television) makes his film debut as a police officer.

So grab your popcorn and soda and enjoy a lesser-known film noir.


If you love film noir, you should read This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, a Reader’s Favorite Finalist for mystery.

What a reader says:

Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves.  Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us.  He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease.  He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases.  This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
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4 Responses to The Best of Film Noir – City That Never Sleeps

  1. Caleb Pirtle says:

    The beautiful thing about this era of film, the stories were character driven and did not depend on special effects. You cared about the characters and were frightened for them. Their conflicts were your conflicts. Nothing else mattered.

  2. I’m not sure if I saw this when I was a kid or not. But I have a question for you. You say Johnny Kelly is a Chicago cop. Does the story take place in Chicago? The title The City that Never Sleeps is usually applied to NYC. Which city is the locale?

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