In the three previous posts on the 1928 Lon Chaney film “While the City Sleeps,” we took a brief look at the production history and the plot, the critical reaction (mostly mixed) and the curious condition of the print, which is missing fairly substantial portions of the film and has nitrate damage.
In this post, we will examine the film’s use of Los Angeles City Hall, which was dedicated April 26, 1928, a little more than a month before shooting began on “While the City Sleeps.” I hesitate to say that this is the first use of City Hall in a motion picture (one never knows what crazy movie people were doing in the crazy ‘20s), but it must be one of the earliest.
This is going to be a breakdown of the film sequence. Then we’ll go back and look for locations.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The film opens with establishing shots of New York.
At the 52-minute mark in this print of “While the City Sleeps,” Lon Chaney, as New York Police Det. Dan Coghlan, is pursuing crime ring leader Mile-Away Skeeter Carlson (Wheeler Oakman). Coghlan enters a building, goes up the stairs and…
climbs a ladder to the roof.
Coghlan enters on the roof of a building on the Main Street side of City Hall. Notice the Scribners sign. We’ll come back to that later.
Coghlan goes under the clothesline seen in the foreground and the film cuts to this scene.
Notice the Scribners sign again.
End of first sequence.
There’s a gun battle between police and the gang, who are trapped in an attic. Then at the 58-minute mark, Mile-Away knocks a hole through a brick wall and climbs out. Obviously, this is a set.
He gets on the roof of the building.
And takes cover.
Coghlan enters, in a different camera setup, and City Hall is again in the background.
Mile-Away shoots at Coghlan.
Coghlan shoots back and runs.
Mile-Away fires again.
Coghlan edges up until he has a clear shot at Mile-Away while taking cover behind a chimney.
Mile-Away shoots. There’s more shooting.
Finally, Mile-Away looks around.
He makes a break….
And Coghlan shoots him.
Coghlan rolls over Mile-Away’s body with his foot. Notice the Harper & Reynolds sign. We’ll come back to that later.
End of sequence.
To be continued.