The Captive City
Captive City

In the early 1950s, the Senate Committee on Organized Crime (headed by Estes Kefauver) conducted hearings which were televised to a wide audience. As such, the concept of organized crime permeated the American consciousness just as the committee claimed it had seeped into every aspect of American culture. Many films were produced to profit on the public's newfound fascination and fear of the ominipresence of gangsters.

Captive City

Harold J. Kennedy and John Forsythe

Wise highlighted the authentic nature of the story (which was inspired by the acutal experiences of crime reporter Alvin Josephy, Jr.) by being one of the first directors to use a documentary style to tell a fictional story. Actual locations in Reno, Nevada as well as a cast of unknowns contributed to the effect.

The film's realistic atmosphere was achieved partly through the use of the new wide-angle Hoge Lens, which Director of Photography Lee Garmes had been the first to use. The deep-focus results were stunning. Wise credits his interest in this kind of photography to Orson Welles: "I've shot many of my films, particularly in black and white, with wide-angle lenses, so we could have somebody close in the foreground and still have things in the background in focus. I'm sure that came from Orson."* The Hoge Lens was in fact developed by Ralph Hoge, who served as a key grip on CITIZEN KANE and as an assistant to Wise on this picture.

This was the first film made by Aspen Pictures, the company Wise founded in 1949 with partner Mark Robson, who was once Wise's editorial assistant. As Wise remembers, "The movie didn't cause any attention here, but I remember getting a review from England that called it 'the sleeper of the year.' I was very proud of it, especially for its documentary-like visual texture."*

Synopsis Jim Austin and Don Carey, former GI buddies, are co-owners of a newspaper in a city called Kennington, an outwardly typical clean-cut American community. Austin handles the editorial end and Carey looks after the business and advertising side. With their wives the young publishers become an important part of the community as normal hard-working small town citizens. This pleasant state of affairs is abruptly altered when Clyde Nelson, a local private detective, working on an apparently harmless divorce case, discovers the existence of a big-time gambling syndicate operating with the knowledge and consent of the city fathers, the local police, and the respectable elements of the community. Before he can turn over the full facts to Austin, Nelson is murdered, supposedly the victim of a hit-and-run driver. Austin takes up the investigation, but finds himself harassed by the police. An attempt is made to tap his phone. The paper's press privileges are revoked. His photographer is brutally beaten. Businessmen refuse to renew advertising contracts. Another informant is murdered, and Austin and his wife are constantly threatened. But his determination to continue his sleuthing leads to a break with his partner, who believes is it wiser to lay off. Despite the many pressures, Austin continues his probing. He succeeds in uncovering the whole mess—the crime, filth, and corruption that exists with the blessing and help of local authorities. However, he is powerless to do anything. An attempt to form a citizen's committee fails, and the police chief, though basically honest himself, has been ordered by higher-ups to look the other way. In glancing through the day's wire association news, Austin learns of a meeting of the Senate crime investigating group at the Capitol. He assembles his facts and with his wife starts out by car. Following a harrowing all-night drive during which they are trailed by hoodlums, they reach the Capitol safely. The story ends as Austin is called into the hearing room.

From Daily Variety, March 26, 1952

Wise Facts
  • This was actor John Forsythe's first lead role in film.
  • Credits: 91 min. United Artists/Aspen; Distributed by: United Artists;  Directed by: Robert Wise;  Produced by: Theron Warth;  Screenplay by: Karl Kamb and Alvin Josephy, Jr.;  Edited by: Ralph Swink;  Director of Photography: Lee Garmes;  Music by: Jerome Moross;  Production Design by: Maurice Zuberano;  Sound by: Tom Carmon.
    John Forsythe Cast  John Forsythe (Jim Austin), Joan Camden (Marge Austin), Harold J. Kennedy (Don Carey), Marjorie Crossland (Mrs. Sirak), Victor Sutherland (Murray Sirak), Ray Teal (Chief Gillette), Martin Milner (Phil Harding), Geraldine Hall (Mrs. Nelson), Hal K. Dawson (Clyde Nelson), Ian Wolfe (Reverend Nash), Gladys Hurlbut (Linda Percy), Jess Kirkpatrick (Anderson), Paul Newlan (Krug), Frances Morris (Mrs. Harding), Paul Brinegar (Police Sergeant), Patricia Goldwater (Sally Carey), Robert Gorrell (Joe Berg), Glenn Judd (Coverly), William C. Miller (Coroner).

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    1. Robert Wise On His Films, p. 21
    2. Robert Wise On His Films, p. 109

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