Released 9/15/28 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Director: Jack Conway; Screenplay: A.P. Younger; Cinematography: Henry Sharp; Film Editor: Sam S. Zimbalist; Settings: Cedric Gibbons; Wardrobe: Gilbert Clark; Titles: Joe Farnham; 9 reels (7227'); Print Sources: George Eastman House, Warner Brothers Classics (all prints missing 853' from reels 6-7)
CAST: Lon Chaney (Dan Coghlan), Anita Page (Myrtle Sullivan), Carroll Nye (Marty), Wheeler Oakman ("Mile Away" Skeeter Carlson), Mae Busch (Bessie), Polly Moran (Minnie McGinnis), Lydia Yeamans Titus (Mrs. Sullivan), William Orlamond (Dwiggins), Richard Carle (Wally)
SYNOPSIS: Daniel Aloysius Coghlan is a plain clothes man, a detective on the beat in New York City. He is investigating a murder in a jewelry store, when a hearse drives up with Skeeter Carlson, an undertaker known as "Mile-Away" because whenever he is asked of his whereabouts when a crime was committed, he was always "a mile away." Dan hopes to get information from Bessie, Mile- Away's former girlfriend, but she refuses to cooperate. Mile-Away has dumped Bessie for Myrtle, and Dan warns Myrtle not to get mixed up with a crook. Dan is an old friend of Myrtle's mother, who tells Dan that Myrtle has been dating Marty. Marty is not much of a catch, as he does not have a job and spends his time taking Myrtle to dance halls. Dan lives in a rooming house run by Minnie McGinnis, a widow who is sweet on Dan. He gets a call from Mrs. Sullivan saying that Myrtle is out late at a dance hall with Marty, and Dan goes to investigate. Mile-Away wants to get rid of Marty so he can have a crack at Myrtle, but Dan shows up and drags Myrtle home. Marty is miffed at Dan, and Mile-Away offers him a chance to make some easy money. Dan goes to work on Bessie, telling her that Mile-Away dumped him for a younger girl, and Bessie tells Dan that Mile-Away murdered the jeweler. Dan goes to see Mile-Away, where he finds Marty working for him. Dan captures the gang, but the case against Mile-Away falls apart when Bessie is captured by the gang and is unable to testify. Mile-Away plans to heist some furs, and Marty is to be shot during the robbery. While the heist is underway, Dan slips in and shows Marty how they planned to bump him off. He tells Marty he will let him go if he leaves town. Dan captures one of Mile-Away's gang and gives him the third degree until he squeals on Mile-Away. Marty sends a note to Myrtle saying he's leaving town and going straight, but Mile-Away intercepts the note and tricks Myrtle into thinking Marty is upstairs in a private room, and when she goes to the room, Mile-Away attacks her. Dan arrives and breaks down the door, but Mile-Away escapes after shooting through the door and killing a policeman. Realizing that Myrtle will testify against him, Mile-Away takes a gun and goes after her. Myrtle finds Dan and tells him that Mile-Away is after her. Dan calls headquarters for officers to protect Myrtle, and arranges for her to stay at the boarding house with him. Three weeks pass, and Mile-Away has been hiding out in the attic of a deserted house. Spending weeks with Myrtle, Dan has fallen for her; he proposes marriage and she accepts. Mile-Away's hideout is spotted, and Dan and the police have him surrounded. The police throw in tear gas bombs and the crooks surrender, but Mile-Away escapes. Dan chases him over the roof of the building where Mile- Away is shot by one of the officers. Marty finds Myrtle and she admits that she really loves him, not Dan, but she feels obligated to marry Dan after all he had done for her. Marty leaves, but Dan has detectives pick him up at the train station. He tells Marty to marry Myrtle, but that if he makes her unhappy, Dan will break his neck. The couple race off to the marriage bureau, and Dan returns home where he finds Mrs. McGinnis waiting to cook him dinner.
"Now and then Lon Chaney tosses his make-up kit over the fence and acts like a human being. He appears "as is" in this picture, which shows crook stuff at its highest tempo, dwarfing THE BIG CITY to the size of a newsreel, and proving that an occasional straight role is fine balance for big character actors. He gives a remarkable characterization of a tough dick. A well-knit story, exceptionally cast and directed." ---Photoplay
"I may have mentioned in this space that I have always considered TELL IT TO THE MARINES Lon Chaney's best picture. This for the reason that in it Chaney didn't make up. Whether I've mentioned it or not, the opinion is now revised. I consider WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS Chaney's best picture. After all, he did have a marine uniform in the other picture. In this he works straight as to attire as well as character. He's a detective, a big city detective, and I think it's well nigh time somebody did a detective without making him funny. Chaney does so." ---Exhibitors Herald
"To begin with, Lon Chaney doesn't do at all in a semi-heroic role. You can't disassociate him from something monstrous and all the bizarre characters he has ever played come up to confront the spectator. Good judgement ought to have barred Chaney from the role in the first place. Therefore, a misplaced star turns what might have been a stirring meller into second grade quality program output, wholly dependent on Chaney's name." ---Variety
NOTES: The film was released in both a silent version, and with a music and sound effects track for theaters equipped with the new sound system. This original soundtrack no longer exists. In addition, extant prints are missing 853' (9.5 min) from reels 6 and 7, but despite that lapse in continuity, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS remains one of the best of Chaney's MGM films. The film was shot in 32 days for $259,000 and earned profits of $399,000.
© 2000,2008 Jon C. Mirsalis
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