Small town syndicate expose results in plenty of blowback in this film noir. John Forsyth is investigative journalist Jim Austin; Marge (Joan Cameron) is his wife, Martin Milner his photographer, Ray Teak the corrupt police chief, Gillette. The hoods are represented by Murray Sirak (Victor Sutherland) and Fabritti (Victor Romito). Clyde Nelson (Hal K. Dawson) is a private detective and Don Carey is played by Harold Kennedy.
This begins with a textbook sort of preface about the Senate’s Kefauver Commission on organized crime. That leads into a foreshadowing bit in which the Austins’ seek police protection in order to testify against the gangsters. The tape recording they do is the story that we see.
I’ve got to like a movie that basically begins with a car chase. This sort of frenzy, showing the desperation of the Austins’ has accurately been compared to 1956’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, which begins with the protagonist on the run from a different sort of menace. The title grabs us as well–very nourish.
Back at the newspaper office, Jim gets a hurried call from Clyde; they have to meet clandestinely. Clyde’s telling him that the chief is crooked, and Sirak is up to no good; he’s being squeezed by Gillette–for investigating the rackets. Jim’s skeptical, but goes to see the chief anyway; the immediate issue is that revoked Clyde’s P.I. license for an alleged police “record.”
Another desperate call from Clyde; now he’s really sweating. Sure enough, as he cuts away from a bar on the dark streets, a dark sedan tails him. And then he’s crunched against a wall at the end of an alley. Back to the swanky club with all the local swells, i.e., rich drunks. Coming upon a hit-and-run scene with Marge, he finds that the fatal victim was Clyde.
Now, Jim is in gear, figuring the whole thing stinks–of a mob hit. He hits up the chief and the coroner, who basically blow him off. At least Clyde’s wife saw the mystery car; but her description is incomplete. She knows that Clyde’s “record” was an invention of Sirak’s, to get rid of Clyde before his investigation hit pay dirt.
“I think maybe I’ll light a fire under their tails” Jim says of the police. The department even intercepted his letter to the license bureau, inquiring about Clyde’s suspended license. Jim goes around town to dig up stuff on his own. Now he’s being tailed by the cops. He’s kind of naive in that he should watch his back a bit better.
A Eureka moment, as Jim finds out about Fabretti, aka David Fowler, and his role in the gambling and protection rackets. With Phil, Jim goes skulking about at night at Sirak’s gambling joint. Phil seems to think he can safely shadow the place and spot Fabretti. Sirak comes to look up Jim, ready to talk about advertising (that is, a bribe).
No dice, says Jim. Then, Fabretti shows at the gambling joint. At night Jim and Phil go cruising by and Phil gets his picture. But then the goons are on him. Uho, he sees the probable murder car outside his house. A phone repair man (a hireling) bluffs his way in intending to bug his phone.
Even the used car dealer is in with the hoods. Marge is worried–who wouldn’t be? Sirak’s ex comes calling; this has to be good news.”This is a new role for me–stool pigeon.” It happens that Fabretti forced his way in on Shirak. She’s ready to on record to that effect. But Shirak himself shows up which seems to quash the whole deal. But at least she’s assured that Jim is after Fabretti, not her husband.
What, is the old bag going to get it too? Yes, but they say she’s committed “suicide.” All the righteousness v. live-and-let-live speeches at the news room. Jim says “I’m going to make news!” Now the chief’s trying to get on Jim’s good side:he even decides to roust Fabretti, but he was tipped off, and disappears. “I’m just giving people what they want” Gilette says, as they leave empty-handed, the cops satisfied at not making a big deal.
Ok, so now Jim is leading a community meeting; the minister and others believe and support him. Problem is, as the minister explains, they’d have to “take on their own congregations.” Here’s a break, the Kefauver commission is in business at the capital. Strangely, Sirak comes calling once again to try and strike a deal.
So, Marge and Jim split for the capitol. And back to the beginning in the police station. Even with the police escort, the gangster’s dark Chrysler is still lurking about. As Jim goes in to testify he gets yet another bribery note. Too late. We get the senator himself to wrap things up for the good guys.
Well, this started out quickly, but got more sedate about half way through. The main problem is that it’s entirely predictable. Never to we get the bad guy’s (Fabretti’s) viewpoint. He hardly even appears. Much more interesting is Gillette, basically a decent guy who’s conflicted about doing the gangster’s bidding. Shirak himself is in an impossible situation–a hood, certainly, but not a bad person. Various co-workers and other locals also straddle the corruption/reform fence.
Everyone else is pretty much all good or all bad; melodrama with a community service premise. In those terms, this comes off rather well, but not so much as crime drama.
Farmermouse dug Jim’s ’49 woodie, the Chrysler and Mercury police cars, and, actually the whole early-’50s Reno scene (the actual location). So, six hood ornaments for The Captive City. 6/10.