Sunday, January 1, 2017

CITY OF FEAR (1959)


Columbia Pictures footed the bill on this suspense drama which bears a striking similarity to so many later television disaster-of-the-week movies. A night scene opens the film with a speeding car driven by a known drug pusher, now an escaped convict wanted for murder and the stolen sealed canister in his possession. The driver getting annoyed by the constant moaning from his mortally wounded partner. His only interest is that canister of a million dollars worth of experimental heroin. In reality it is a radioactive synthetic, Cobalt-60. Highly contagious and deadly when in its presence. Opened, it could wipe out a city according to the film. An eighty-four hour search unfolds with the police, a nervous environmental authority and scientist working in concert to find the convict, preferably the canister.


Vince Edwards actually stars as Vince, “geigerman,” who thinks he has a bad cold. Edwards’ acting solidifies the movie as we watch him completely be drained from fits of coughing, sweating and feeling stupid for not getting a flu shot. The character is as one-dimensional as can be mustered. He is despicable in every scene and refuses to trust anyone but himself.

We find out about a nervous shoe store owner, television staple, Joseph Mell, who has profited from Edwards’ past drug deals. Driving a 1958 Lincoln land yacht is a dead giveaway the “Buster Browns” could not be moving that well. Director Irving Lerner again brings together Edwards with Cathy Browne and screenwriter Steven Ritch as the shoe store assistant and scientist, respectively. Waiting two years for Edwards is his girl, Patricia Blair, who has come in contact with the canister. When later questioned by the police she repeatedly denies seeing Edwards but her profuse sweating and “smoker's cough” give her away.


This is a pretty decent film which hides its limited budget. A creative score by Jerry Goldsmith adds excitement, bringing the crime thriller up a notch or two. The middle of this thriller is filled with the usual angst in trying to track down Edwards and save the city. There is action for the automobile historian with in-car cameras that put the viewer in the back seat. Several competent actors with familiar faces are on hand to lend credibility.


I found the rapid ending not perfectly thought out but at least funny. When Edwards stumbles out of a diner he collapses clinging to the sealed canister. The authorities, keeping their distance, fail to convince Vince there is still a chance he could survive. Slim. At best. They actually ask for the canister. Bad idea. Though Edwards may still be breathing, they immediately cover his body with a blanket and place a “high radiation area” sign of caution on top of it. Do not leave headquarters without that sign! The police captain then says to the scientist with relief, “Come on. I want to go home.” Someone will be by later to shovel him up I guess. Dead or alive.

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