“Ordinarily, Americans don’t think much about the existence of organized crime. They know vaguely that it is there, and they let it go at that, unless prodded by some unusual circumstances “. – Estis Kefauver
Senator Kefauver knew what he was talking about. He led a well-known Senate investigation into organized crime back in 1950. His committee heard testimony about organized crime activities and made rather dramatic headlines with its findings. The Captive City relied heavily on the committee hearings and attempted to capitalize on the subject. The senator himself participated as a consultant and delivered the film’s epilogue.
Jim Austin (Forsythe) and his wife (Camden) start the film on the run. They are being pursued by mobsters who want to make sure they don’t reach the Kefauver hearings with the evidence they’ve obtained. The make their way into a small-town police station and request an escort to the Capitol. While they are waiting for the escort to arrive, Jim spots a tape recorder and begins to record his story … just in case.
The recording serves as the story’s narrative and takes us to the beginning where Jim is the owner of a small town newspaper. A man named Nelson (Dawson) asks to meet him in private. He claims to have a story that will blow the city wide open. He meets Dawson but finds his story of police corruption and mob activities a bit paranoid and hard to believe. That is, until Nelson ends up dead in an “accident”. The allegations involve a local business leader named Murray Sirak (Sutherland). It turns out Nelson was working for Mrs. Sirak (Crossland) as a private investigator and was looking into Murray’s business dealings with an out-of-town hood named Fabretti (Romito). Before long Jim doesn’t like where his investigation is leading. And he’s not the only one. His partner at the paper is feeling the heat and losing advertisements. The cops and other high-profile citizens are putting pressure on him, and cars are staking out his house. When Mrs. Sirak also ends up dead the couple realize they’re next unless they give in or get out.
It’s very hard to appreciate The Captive City in the way it came across in 1952. There were gangster films in those days, but they were quite different than the mob films we know today. The Senator’s introduction and epilogue don’t ring very accurate by today’s standards. They treat the mob as something most people don’t even think about. Of course, The Godfather changed all of that, and we’ve since developed an entire genre and sub-culture around those very themes. We live in a day where people still believe, if you’re Italian (which I am) you must be connected with the Mafia. It might help keep some folks from messing with you, but it doesn’t necessarily help in most social settings. You have to try and put those films and shows out of your mind or you’ll have a hard time buying into this movie.
Robert Wise directed the piece, and you can see many elements of his flair for authenticity and atmosphere. He draws you in intimately to the Austin couple, allowing you to care enough about what happens to them that the suspense works even if much of the dialog is a bit forced and obviously intended as a social message. Forsythe delivers a powerful performance as Jim. He goes through a wide range of emotions and stands out as the man alone on an island. There are aspects of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers here, and you can see a bit of Kevin McCarthy’s nuances in Forsythe here. Forsythe is in just about every scene. When he’s not actually on camera his narration fills in for his absence. This is very much his story. Look for Martin Milner as a very young 19-year-old newspaper photographer who is eager to help. The price is right, and it’s certainly worth a peek. “This isn’t a pretty story, nor even a new one.”
It’s very much a film of its time. This is one of those limited appeal films that would likely never make its way to DVD or Blu-ray. Now MGM has started a program very much like the Warner Archive program. They are opening up their library of films to be released on DVD-R’s at your request. You still get a good box art package and a silk-screened DVD-R. Learn more about the MGM Limited Edition Collection. Bang it here to visit The Captive City