Wednesday, December 02, 2009


With the collapse of its traditional farming and manufacturing economy, Phenix City, Alabama (pronounced like Phoenix) has been overrun by vice; a song performed in one its nightclubs lauds the city’s "fancy women, slot machines, and booze." Anyone trying to fight the corrupt City Hall is doomed to defeat; nevertheless, a group of concerned citizens keep trying, and this year they want lawyer Albert Patterson to get involved. He won't, for two reasons 1) the reigning czar of the town’s seedier elements, Rhett Tanner, is an old friend of his; 2) he believes the citizens’ group is guilty of vigilantism. Eventually, however, Patterson’s son John, just back home from the Korean War, gets involved on the side of the citizens. When the young daughter of one of the crusaders is kidnapped, killed, and dumped in the street, Albert is motivated to run for Attorney General on an anti-vice platform. He wins, but before he can be sworn in, he is assassinated by Tanner's thugs. Now John Patterson gets serious, calling the state militia in to restore law and order.

This is often labeled as "film noir," but it's really a documentary-style crime drama. Based on a true story (and filmed on location in Phenix City a year after the events portrayed), the film is so anxious to set up its credentials, it opens with an awkward 10-minute newsreel segment in which real-life reporter Clete Roberts sets up the background and interviews a couple of the real people involved in the events. While moderately interesting, this section goes on too long, working against the building of dramatic tension. Luckily, once the movie gets going, it's quite watchable. John McIntire (as the father) and Edward Andrews (as Tanner) are both effectively low-key, with Richard Kiley (as the son, pictured above with McIntire) able to push his performance a bit in the other direction. The dumping of the little girl is a truly brutal and startling moment; James Edwards gives a good performance as the girl's father. Kathryn Grant (later married to Bing Crosby) isn't given much to do as Kiley's wife, though she does have a shrilly hysterical scene after the death of the girl. Not film noir, but still worth a view, largely as a document of its time; nowadays, this would be a TV-movie. [TCM]

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