Bellevue to a Kill

Did someone at Bellevue Hospital feel that Billy Wilder’s presentation of the place in THE LOST WEEKEND — reputedly filmed on location, though you wouldn’t know it — gave the place a bad rep, and that another movie might balance out the negative publicity?

If so, THE SLEEPING CITY, a decent little noir trifle from able western hack George Sherman and crime specialist screenwriter Jo Eisinger doesn’t do the place any real favours. It’s from the shot-on-location phase of post-KISS OF DEATH noir, but not a ripped-from-the-headlines number — star Richard Conte shows up in scene one, in costume but out of character, to assure us that this is NOT a true story. Or I think that’s what he’s saying — he says it never happened at Bellevue or anywhere in New York, but that certainly leaves loopholes.

In the next sequence, a young interne is abruptly murdered — a very well-staged sequence, midway between docudrama and melo. Conte is an undercover cop from the “confidential squad” (which is the film’s alternate title) planted in the hospital to investigate. Colleen Gray is a lovely ward nurse, and there are excellent supporting perfs from Alex Nicol (bitter roommate) and some guy called Richard Taber, playwright-actor, as a creepy old fart called “Pop.”

If the hospital authorities were hoping for good press, they hadn’t counted on the effect of b&w cinematography on institutional architecture. The place looks terrifying, and expressionist homunculus Taber, by his very presence, turns it into a nightmare of sci-fi intestines. The plot, with suffering patients being prescribed painkillers they never receive, thanks to a dope ring, isn’t exactly reassuring either. It’s my strong belief that an investigation of the Bellevue employment records will reveal that their head of PR was dismissed around about 1950.

6 Responses to “Bellevue to a Kill”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    The “bad rep” of the Bellevue scene in “The Lost Weekend” proceeds from the fact that the male nurse played by Frank Faylen is a deeply cynical gay man. Gayness and fear of same is at the heart of the anti-hero’s troubles (the book’s author’s as well) but thanks to the production code Wilder and Brackett were forced to invent Jane Wyman. “Kip” the nurse is an example of their finding a way o “slip one past the goalie”

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    Thanks, David E. for this very relevant insight. I assume the Faylen interpretation derives from the book that I’ve not read? However, from my one viewing on BBC TV decades ago, he always struck me as a figure of some importance but I could not define in what way. You’ve insightfully filled in the gap.

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

    You’re more than welcome.

  4. The nurse’s name in the film is “Bim,” and his gayness and cynicism accompany a kind of sadism that would make me reluctant to be under his care. A cynical gay nurse, SURE! Make the whole thing fun. But maybe not a sadistic one.

  5. ehrenstein47 Says:

    You’re right. I remembered it as “Kip.” But it’s “Bim.” Six of one half a dozen of the other. And yes he’s a graduate of the “Kenneth Anger Practical Nursing Academy”

  6. One man’s Kip is another man’s Bim.

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