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Remind Me

City of Fear

A low-budget programmer from Columbia Pictures, the crime thriller City of Fear (1959) is sometimes classified as a Film Noir, although it is probably too conventionally executed and arrives a bit too late to be considered a part of the Noir cycle.

The plot is promising enough. At the San Quentin Federal Penitentiary, convict Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards) and a fellow inmate make an escape after stabbing a physician and stealing an ambulance. Upon his escape, Ryker grabs a metal container that he believes contains a large and valuable amount of heroin. In disguise and with a different car, Ryker approaches Los Angeles in hopes of selling the drugs. The police know that Ryker is in the city – he has killed his fellow escapee and the body has been discovered. Chief Jensen (Lyle Talbot) and Lt. Mark Richards (John Archer) consult with Dr. John Wallace (Steven Ritch) about the stolen materials in the criminal's possession. In a surprising revelation, Wallace identifies it as Cobalt 60 – a deadly radioactive material that slowly poisons those who are exposed for long periods to the container, and that if the container were to be opened, thousands in the Los Angeles area would die.

The filmmakers fail to make the convict's physical deterioration more compelling by showing a mental equivalent, and the frequent cutaways to the Stationhouse render the story a mere police procedural. Trevor Johnston writes in Time Out Film Guide that "the premise is more exciting than the execution, but the movie's strong on seedy atmosphere (notable black & white camerawork from Lucien Ballard) and there's an excellent jazz-tinged score from Jerry Goldsmith." The score was Goldsmith's second for a feature film, following the George Montgomery western Black Patch (1957).

City of Fear followed another low-budget Columbia crime thriller - Murder by Contract (1958) - from director Irving Lerner and star Vince Edwards. Edwards possessed the good looks of a romantic leading man, but was often cast against-type in his mid-to-late 1950s films in menacing roles. Earlier, he had also played an escaped convict in The Night Holds Terror (1955) and also appeared as a back-stabbing gang member in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). He found fame on television in the title role of the long-running medical series Ben Casey, which ran on ABC for five seasons from 1961 to 1966. City of Fear director Lerner actually helmed 13 episodes during the run.

Lyle Talbot had a long career in film and television – he began his film career as a utility player at Warner Bros., appearing in such movies as 42nd Street (1933) and Ladies They Talk About (1933). He eventually saw himself become part of Ed Wood's stable of recurring actors, appearing in Glen or Glenda (1953) and the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). In between, Talbot appeared in dozens of B-Westerns, second features, and serials. Talbot played on both sides of the law for Columbia Pictures' superhero serials; he appeared as commissioner Gordon in Batman and Robin (1949), and as Lex Luthor in Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950).

Producer: Leon Chooluck
Director: Irving Lerner
Screenplay: Robert Dillon, Steven Ritch
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Film Editing: Robert Lawrence
Art Direction: Jack Poplin
Set Decoration: Lyle B. Reifsnider
Cast: Vince Edwards (Vince Ryker), Lyle Talbot (Chief Jensen), John Archer (Lt. Mark Richards), Steven Ritch (Dr. Wallace), Patricia Blair (June), Kelly Thordsen (Sgt. Johnson).

by John M. Miller