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January 05, 2016

The Captive City


Robert Wise - 1952
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

"Ripped from the newspaper headlines" is how it would have been proclaimed back when Robert Wise made this film. The topicality of The Captive City is probably the main reason why Wise's follow-up to The Day the Earth Stood Still doesn't generate the kind of attention or love of the earlier work. That this film was also endorsed by Congressman Estes Kefauver, who also makes an appearance, will probably be meaningless to a younger generation of viewers. Back in the days when television was something broadcast over no more channels than the fingers of one hand, Kefauver was a celebrity politician for his hearings on organized crime, part of the inspiration for The Captive City.

As a former editor, most famously at RKO for Orson Welles, Wise takes the expression, "cut to the chase" literally here. The film opens with newspaper reporter John Forsythe furiously driving down the highway, pursued by another car, until he stops at the nearest police station. Fearing for his life, he talks the desk sergeant into letting him use the station tape recorder to tell his story about the events that have led to the threats against his life. Most of The Captive City takes place in a small town where it would seem that virtually every place of business is a front for small time betting, all secretly under the control of some guys seen wearing trench coats and broad brim hats. These out of town guys are also known to hide their Italian last names.

The narrative elements are of some historical interest, but what really makes makes The Captive City ripe for reconsideration is that visually, this is Robert Wise at his most Wellesian. There are a couple of shots where a character breaks into the frame in close-up, with the other characters positioned in the back. Several conversations are filmed as a two shot, the term used for two people within the frame. One of the actors is placed in close-up in the foreground, while the other actor is seen further back. Wise also has a few deep focus shots, such as one of Forsythe at the entrance of his newspaper office, the hallway, dark, empty, almost forbidding. That the main character of The Captive City is an idealistic newspaper journalist, and co-owner of a small town paper, albeit one who retains his idealism, seems almost too coincidental following Wise's participation on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Lee Garmes' credit as cinematographer comes with the subtitle mentioning that Garmes was using something called the "Hoge lens". Sharp eyed viewers will then note Ralph Hoge getting credit as Assistand Director. There seems to be bit of Hollywood history that requires a bit more exploration, but Ralph Hoge, with the camera lens that bears his name, was the key grip on those two previously mentioned films by Orson Welles, and would have had some practical experience in making deep focus a reality for his director.

The Captive City may well be of interest to fans of of Fifties and Sixties television. This was John Forsythe's first film where he received top billing. Ray Teal, part of the Bonanza stock company, appears here as the compromised small town police chief. Martin Milner, twenty-one at the time, but appearing like he only outgrew puberty the day before, is the enthusiastic photographer for Forsythe's newspaper. And Paul Brinegar, clean shaven unlike his grizzled, bearded cook in Rawhide, is seen as the desk sergeant who offers Forsythe safe haven in the police station.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 5, 2016 04:24 PM