Friedlob and Lang's Tabloid Thrillers --- Part One
Friedlob (Bert's) placement over Fritz Lang is no typo. Hustling dollars in the mid-fifties to independently produce features was a tougher job than directing them. Friedlob managed While The City Sleeps and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, Fritz's final US pair, died prematurely (8/56), then bore Lang's epitaph (Son of a Bitch) from there --- one more (now less) obstacle between an auteur and his art. That neither film would have been made without Friedlob's push, let alone with Lang directing, is today forgot. Like most giddyup guys who enabled great directors, he ranks beneath a footnote. Someday there ought to be a book about the lone wolf pack who did movies from ground up and put them before a Golden Age public. To know of Bert Friedlob and his fraternity is to shovel frozen ground, yet I increasingly find him of equal (greater?) interest than further accounting of Herr Lang beset by another producing bogeyman.
Friedlob introduced roller derbies and midget races to South Pacific isles during (comparative) youth, then fitted skates to Mickey Rooney for The Fireball, an indie partnership with vet director Tay Garnett that 20th Fox thought enough of to distribute. Bert grazed star-lit clubground where flashbulb-baits Lana Turner, Eleanor Parker (a wife), numerous others gathered, that in addition to having once wed money. He'd wade into bar fights on behalf of pals outnumbered. Columnist Jimmy Starr wrote of shorts and robe-clad Friedlob bully-clearing Mocambo's floor as afterthought to buying a newspaper outside. Jimmy was in a jam and battle-ready Bert saw not the need for formal dress to join the dust-up. Needless to add, he made valued friends and used them to churn budget shows. The Steel Trap was his nifty vault heist thriller also Fox-handled, as was Bette Davis as The Star, her confidence in Friedlob a vote of same throughout the industry.
Making good with these got BF a 20th berth to produce Untamed for the company (1955, with much budget and location), meaning his ship had come in, but Friedlob preferred smaller pics done his way, thus While The City Sleeps, and welcome work for lately idle Fritz Lang. Begun as News Is Made At Night in Spring '55, Friedlob had the $ and commitment to release from United Artists, but sold interests, plus the negative, to product-starved RKO in early '56. Part of his compensation would be a term contract and that studio's bankrolling follow-up Beyond A Reasonable Doubt. There was meantime a title switch from News Is Made ... to While The City Sleeps, along with "conversion" of the neg to SuperScope, an ill-fit, as such wide projection was never contemplated when Friedlob and Lang did Sleeps a year earlier.
Friedlob had gotten trade ink via his campaign against vicious comic books, this being outgrowth of a personal crusade against such pulp publications launched by director Lang. The latter had read Seduction Of The Innocent by Dr. Frederick Wertham and was "engaged in battle" since. Lang suggested insertion of the attack on the horror comics to underline the character of the psychotic killer in his film, according to Variety's Hollywood Inside column. With much of
"The New RKO" was for mending ties with a show-world alienated by the company's disposal of its library, a first such mass migration to rival television. The company promised nine new features completed by September 1956 and fifteen by the end of that year. Foreign producers were wooed to bring another two or three to RKO's release plate, these financed by the waning major. Top talent was scared off by instability that had become another name for RKO, so product reflected lower standards --- The First Traveling Saleslady, Tension At Table Rock, Back From Eternity --- all lacking major star wattage, let alone distinction otherwise. Friedlob and Lang's Beyond A Reasonable Doubt was completed before While The City Sleeps was released in May 1956. Both, said trades, had come in under schedule and budgets, helpful blurbs to secure future work for the team, only by now Lang had fallen out with Friedlob, who would himself die of pancreatic cancer within months.
Selling of While The City Sleeps aimed square at trash sensibilities. Early ads mimicked covers of notorious Confidential magazine, then an industry scourge and regarded near-as-bad as kid-chilling mags Lang deplored. Reviews were overall good. This was a cheap (and cheap looking) picture, but with a game cast of has-beens and character folk, well-schooled at bottom scraping, fun was assured. "Sensational Lipstick Murder" was the hook ... in fact, a series of them, catnip for skin art/sleazy ads of Rhonda Fleming and Sally Forrest, femmes offered up as potential prey for "Mixed-Up Mama's Boy" killer John Drew Barrymore. Lang dramatizing such serial-antics harked back to his German M, but also forecast 60's and later excess when a whole biz would embrace Psycho and imitator doings.