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City Of Fear (1959) d.Irving Lerner


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My first viewing of this screams "What a STINKER!" with all the makings of Rich's SCSU column.


If you've ever seen one of those horrible comedies that takes a 2-minute SNL skit and steals 90 minutes of your life as a feature film, then CITY OF FEAR is the noir equivalent.


Escaped-convict Vince Edwards breaks out of prison with a metal container he thinks is heroin but is actually Plutonium-60. The future BEN CASEY had to wish he died in the opening scene instead. And Lyle Talbot looks like he wishes he could have joined him.


The dialog - and lack of - is probably the low-point. The fact that one of the so-called 'writers' Steve Ritch also appears in the film may actually speak highly of every actor who elected to have root canals instead of working on this 'film'.


If the dialog isn't the low point, then the filming is. Or is it the performances? It's tough to choose - there's so many elements needed to make a film this bad, and all of them contribute greatly.


This film is part of the recent COLUMBIA NOIR CLASSICS II box set, which includes Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE (1954 with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Broderick Crawford), the film that usually wins my vote for "The Most Wasted Talent" Award.


I should have thought, "If that film isn't the worst in this box set, what is?"


CITY OF FEAR. Without a doubt.


Then, if the film isn't painful enough, we have director Christopher Nolan delivering his own full-diaper-load of the standardized, mimeographed noir excrement: the fawning love of B&W photography and "gritty realism" ad nauseum. Can he EVER say a single line that is close to being original or creative? No. As his fame has grown, this bonus interview answers my doubts about Nolan's increasingly drawn-out, boring, overly-reliant-on-FX films. "Not on creative bone in his body."

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Wow ! You really didn't like this movie ! Now I want to see it, if only to check out how bad it really is.

Have you ever had that experience, where you've heard a film is super bad, so it makes you actually want to see it (you know, like Plan 9 from Outer Space).


But some of those features you criticized I kind of like sometimes, so maybe I'll be contrary and like it.With greats like Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame in it, can it be all bad? I'll watch almost anything with either of those actors in it.

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I need to smooth over the "I really didn't like it" impression. That's true in so many areas of this film, too. But like many bad films, this one falls into the "I can't believe it's got so many bad elements so I've got to keep watching" kind of experience.


Therefore, if I grasp desperately onto that kernal of thought, it's truly not "a wasted 90 minutes", no more than any of Roger Corman's mediocre films or worse (he has good ones, mediocre ones and stinkers). If you've seen LAST WOMAN ON EARTH, which has fairly low expectations to start but still manages to fall below those, then I could argue CITY OF FEAR sets even higher goals with an interesting tale, and perhaps does even less.


On the other hand, CITY OF FEAR does give all detractors of Ed Wood an argument that Ed "wasn't so bad after all - he made some pretty good choices in comparison." I mean, there are large moments of CITY OF FEAR which makes Tor Johnson's history of dialog seem Pulitzer-esque.


Plus, CITY OF FEAR falls into my category, "I am glad to have seen this film and I really am happy to have it on DVD."


Lyle Talbot's insertion in PLAN 9 and CITY OF FEAR should have yielded a fabulous bonus interview "if only someone had asked" before Lyle's death in 1996. I'd have loved to have heard his reflections on both of those experiences. I'm still certain that "traumatic amputation by locomotive" and most dentistry-since-13th-Century would have been worse - for Lyle, that is.


Vince Edwards had finished his strong MURDER BY CONTRACT role - which is quite flat, a la a cardboard mannequin as a learn-as-you-go mob hitman. And then he gets this role in CITY which should have given him more range - but because the dialog is so pathetic, he achieves far less.

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Red, for me, CITY's laughability factor is somehow linked to one of the film's so-called writers also being in the film. And HIS dialog is miserable, too - always off-the-mark, poorly sequenced (were a day's scenes filmed with some actors on Page 7 and others on Page 12?).


Larry Blamire's most-excellent LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA is my favorite example of how to write inane dialog. In fact, LOST's dialog often has lines that are beyond my imagination - "How could anyone WRITE such a line - how'd they THINK of stringing those words together? - and then how could actors deliver these lines with such perfect, deadpan faces?!!"


On the other hand, CITY OF FEAR's editor(s) really had a task because a huge amount of footage is cars-in-motion - silent, filler footage. Cars drive to and fro, sometimes pulling into intersections, stopping, making another turn. That's all. Just footage of cars driving.


Ed Woods looks positively Wellman-esque in comparison.

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Just footage of cars driving.


I'm willing to bet that footage appears in more than one movie. Shot for one, and conveniently recycled. Edwards, for whatever talent he has, is not a bad choice for a villain. He's kind of dark, grim. Even Dr. Casey was pretty humorless!

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Actually, I think the car footage was unique to that film because only one certain model-year was used, and those few cars were filmed over and over. Quite tedious, I bet. There are so many '50s films that used the late '40s-to-mid '50s cars - they were plentiful, after all. This one uses '56 and '57, maybe some '58s. Pretty interesting for that reason. I don't see too many films using those models. Alas, no Edsels, though. I can criticize the filmmakers for many things, but at least they avoiding paying for Edsels!

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  • 8 months later...







Funny. I had forgotten I had posted on this topic from the "Haven't seen it" standpoint. Guess what our local library has? I don't find this little thriller nearly as insulting as some do. It's pretty much patched together; it does remind one a little of that Edward Wood treasure with Steve Reeves! But there's some excitement there. I was riding right along with the good guys, wanting to spare the citizens from contamination. I found Edwards' plight intriguing. (Can even Dr. Zorba save him?) And the no budget look of it all kind of adds to the appeal.


Is this one of the great ones? Certainly not. But at no time did I feel my effort was wasted. Frankly, I was more disappointed in the other video I watched last night. Mankiewicz' sophisticated PEOPLE WILL TALK. Yes they will. Too much!


The plot of CITY OF FEAR is exactly like a cute pulp novel from that era called STOP THAT MAN! I don't know if one was derived from the other. I imagine the idea came up a lot. It's a good concept, and a story that writes itself. In your opinion, not very well! In mine, no regrets.

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RR, I was re-watching CITY OF FEAR recently. I was brought back to Evelyn "Miss Sweaty" Keyes in THE PROWLER, which led me back to her sweatiness in THE KILLER THAT STALKED NY, then to CITY OF FEAR. And throw in PANIC IN THE STREETS, another film with a lot of actors sweatin' it out.


You commented that the "no-budget look to it" was an appeal in CITY OF FEAR, and I agree. Why is that? I don't know. I like THE KILLING quite a bit even with - or maybe because of - some poorly timed dialog and occasionally misplaced narration. It feels more raw, that way, more immediate. I can't say "more realistic" because all of these techniques - and the Filming Process itself - can't be 'realistic' truly. It's all staged. Yet your "no-budget look to it" is one of CITY's attracting features.

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I've watched a couple of others that seem to be part of the set. MURDER BY CONTRACT makes CITY OF FEAR look like Shakespeare! This one has everything wrong with it. I can forgive bad writing, but when a thriller fails to thrill, there's a problem. Some of the story doesn't even make sense.


THE SNIPER is a classier project. A Stanley Kramer production directed by Edward Dmytryk, it's small and low key, but intelligent and thoughtful. This one IS exciting, with some effective footage of the San Francisco streets and rooftops that accommodate the story. By far the best of the three (I still haven't watched HUMAN DESIRE), it has little in common with the rest of the set, save the tell tale low budget look.

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I promise I'll let go of this thread after today!


I've just gotten around to watching HUMAN DESIRE. (The library lends them out for a week!) I liked it. Easily the best of the four. GG is dynamite. Literally. She's just waiting to explode. Crawford does blow up. He's actually pretty good in it, and he's not much of an actor. The story, a classic triangle, is tried and true. But the characters are fresh enough to zap a little life into it.


I'm left cold by the open ending. I won't spoil it. But it's like somebody misplaced the final chapter.

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Let go of it?!! Why?


I'm with you on the 'unpleased with open ending' of HUMAN DESIRE and it's an interesting film to see Broderick Crawford in a purely dramatic film-triangle unlike BORN YESTERDAY with Holden and Judy Holliday. I easily prefer BORN to HUMAN and I think it's because Broderick has a more suited character than his in HUMAN. Broderick's rather like a bowling ball actor - roll him in one direction, let him plow thru anything in his way, but trying to get him to change or be 'nuanced' may be a tough thing without going off into gutters.


At the same time - his closing scene hilarity in THE MOB is wonderful - just a final-seconds snippet of a scene, and it keeps that film memorable above all else.


All that said - I still think he is terrific in LARCENY INC - the big galoot next to Edward G Robison and Edward Brophy, and against Anthony Quinn.


"Next to CITY OF FEAR, MURDER BY CONTRACT is Shakespeare." You said it all right there. I still think CITY's a real stinker, but I've enjoyed it more once my expectations were dimmed down. MURDER BY CONTRACT obviously led my expectations for CITY to be much much higher than the film delivers.


And you brought up the excellent little THE SNIPER. It's fun to see how this film was remade during DIRTY HARRY but Harry Callahan seemed to have dialog almost directly rebutting Richard Kiley's kinder, gentler pleadings.


Which takes me back to Kiley in THE MOB-!

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I'm not sure I've seen THE MOB. We watch so many movies it's hard to remember! I positively love, and admire, LARCENY, INC. One of the great film comedies? Maybe that's a little excessive. But an exercise in pacing, situation and character definition. Crawford is good in it, Robinson superb. I even liked the plot when Woody Allen stole it, but this one is the one to watch.

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  • 2 weeks later...

THE PUSHOVER is pretty good. It's a lazy film. Keeping its standards moderate, but achieving them nicely. Standard crime and corruption drama, borrowing heavily from DOUBLE INDEMNITY. One must wonder if the casting of MacMurray was dictated by that comparison. The Kim Novak character is no Phyllis Dietrichson, and Novak is no Barbara Stanwyck. Despite these shortcomings, I enjoyed the film.


It's a good story, told in a straightforward way. No frills. But plenty of fun. The plot feeds off itself, becoming increasingly more exciting. Not a classic, but I was never bored. In the long run, that's the test.

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