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Noirvember 2018, Episode 12: The Captive City (1952)

The Captive City (1952)

Directed by Robert Wise

Produced by Theron Warth

Screenplay by Alvin M. Josephy and Karl Kamb

Based on a story by Alvin M. Josephy

Cinematography by Lee Garmes

Edited by Robert Swink

Aspen Productions

Distributed by United Artists

(1:31) New to me - Kino Lorber Blu-ray

A car races down the highway, it’s female passenger looking out the rear window. The man driving screeches to a halt in front of a police station and pleads with the desk sergeant to contact his superior. Anxiously awaiting the someone in authority, the man - newspaper editor Jim Austin (John Forsythe) - dictates his story into a tape recorder (with shades of Double Indemnity) while his wife Marge (Joan Camden) nervously looks on.


In an opening that possibly influenced Invasion of the Body Snatchers four years later, Austin relates what went wrong in the quiet town of Kennington. A local private investigator named Clyde Nelson (Hal K. Dawson) is convinced a prominent businessman named Murray Sirak (Victor Sutherland) may be involved in a gambling ring. Austin is unconvinced, as is Kennington Police Chief Gillette (Ray Teal), who says Nelson’s barking up the wrong tree. But when Nelson dies in a hit-and-run “accident,” Austin wonders if maybe the PI was onto something.

The Captive City is an unfairly neglected newspaper noir that’s worth seeking out. Robert Wise and Oscar-winning cinematographer Lee Garmes provide several great moments with superb contrasts of light and dark, symbolizing the darkness that has entered this otherwise innocent small town. Oscar-nominated editor Robert Swink does a fine job all-around, but in particular during the hit-and-run scene.

It's always fun to see Ray Teal (with over 300 IMDb actor credits), but we're also treated to an early role from the young (20 years old at the time) Martin Milner (above left) as an eager newspaper photographer.

The film’s biggest disappointment is the snoozer of an epilogue in which U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver cautions the audience against the corruption organized crime brings to American cities and towns. We can excuse that, since the screenplay (based on the actual experiences of Time magazine reporter Alvin M. Josephy Jr.) was inspired by the Kefauver Committee Senate hearings in 1950 and 1951 investigating organized crime. Along with The Gangster (1947), The Captive City is a strong contender for the sleeper of Noirvember 2018. I hope you’ll check it out.

Next time: one of the best portrayals of a femme fatale in the past 30 years.

Photos: IMP Awards, DVD Beaver

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