The Captive City


1h 30m 1952
The Captive City

Brief Synopsis

A small-town newspaper editor defies threats to expose the mob.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Tightrope
Genre
Drama
Crime
Film Noir
Release Date
Apr 11, 1952
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Mar 1952
Production Company
Aspen Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Reno, Nevada, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Newspaper editor Jim T. Austin and his wife Marge race into a Midwestern police station to escape the gangsters following them, and beg the sergeant to help them reach the capital safely. When the sergeant cannot hail the captain, Jim begins to record his story on a police tape machine: Weeks earlier, in a nearby mid-sized town, Jim is contacted by investigator Clyde Nelson, who insists they meet in secret at the local library. There, Nelson reveals that when he investigated an alimony suit brought by Margaret Sirak against her ex-husband, insurance magnate Murray Sirak, he uncovered what appeared to be a massive gambling ring run by Sirak and involving police chief Gillette. The police then began a campaign of threats against Nelson, from issuing traffic tickets to tapping his phones to following him. Recently, his investigator's license has been revoked, and Nelson, who fears for his life, urges Jim to break the story of police corruption in his newspaper. Jim is doubtful, but when he sees policemen outside the library, his curiosity is piqued. He visits Gillette, who assures him that Nelson is unstable and that they have been tailing him only to make sure he does not spread any more rumors. Jim is reassured until a few weeks later when he gets an urgent call from the investigator, who begs Jim to meet him. Jim refuses, but when he later hears that Nelson has been killed in a hit-and-run accident, he races to the morgue. There, Mrs. Nelson tells him that a car with Florida license plates had been following them for days, and blames Sirak for her husband's death. Over the next days, Jim runs a series of editorials questioning why the police are not investigating Nelson's death more thoroughly. When Gillette chastises him, Jim responds that he will look into the death himself, and visits laundress Margaret. She refuses to answer his questions, so he searches Nelson's office and discovers a note written by Margaret listing all the bookies in the area. Although he receives no information from the bookies he contacts, he begins to notice a police cruiser following him. Jim then visits the warehouse of the last bookie on the list and finds a familiar-looking man running a business in the back. Looking through press clippings, Jim realizes that the man is actually powerful mob gangster Dominick Fabretti. Jim stations young reporter Phil Harding at the warehouse to report on Fabretti's actions, and when Phil finally sees the gangster come out, he contacts Jim. The two take a photograph of Fabretti, and after the eager reporter develops it that evening, he is savagely beaten by gangsters, who also steal the film. Later, Sirak visits Jim at his office and offers him a bribe to stop investigating. Jim's partner, Don Carey, hears Jim turn Sirak down and urges him not to try to reform the world. Soon, Jim notices a car with a Florida license plate parked outside his house, and realizes his phone has been tapped. In addition, the paper's advertisers, many of them bookies on the side, cancel their ads and threaten to retaliate. At home, just as Marge tells Jim that she cannot continue to live in fear, Margaret appears. She sobs drunkenly that her ex-husband was forced to go into business with mobsters, and when Nelson found out, the gang had him killed. She agrees to Jim's request to sign a deposition, but the next day, she does not show up at the lawyer's office, and Jim finds her dead in her apartment. The police rule her death a suicide, and although Jim writes a scathing editorial against them, Don refuses to print it because there is no proof of murder. Quitting in anger, Jim confronts Gillette, who accompanies him to the warehouse. They find it already cleaned out, however, and the police chief tells Jim that they are powerless to stop mobster involvement in bookmaking. Jim then turns to Reverend Nash and the other local ministers. Although they are alarmed at the extent of the problem, they decide that the corruption is too widespread to stop. That night, Jim is sitting in his darkened office drinking dejectedly when he sees a memo from Senator Estes Kefauver about the Special State Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, and realizes that he must get to the committee in the capital at once. Although Sirak shows up and offers one last opportunity to take money in return for stopping his search, Jim refuses, and he and Marge leave at midnight for the capital. On the way, however, they see the Florida car trailing them and are forced to flee to the nearest police station. There, Jim finishes his story just as policemen arrive to escort him to the capital. Although a threatening note is slipped to him as he is in the doorway of the committee, Jim bravely enters the room.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Tightrope
Genre
Drama
Crime
Film Noir
Release Date
Apr 11, 1952
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Mar 1952
Production Company
Aspen Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Reno, Nevada, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Captive City


For the first half of 1951, America was captivated by the televised Kefauver Hearings. A special committee on organized crime, dubbed the Kefauver Committee after its chairman, Tennessee Senator Carey Estes Kefauver, had begun a nationwide tour ten months earlier interviewing over 800 crime witnesses. Their objective was to get a peek into the clandestine life of the underworld crime syndicate, a growing social problem since the end of World War II. Americans were transfixed by the testimonies of associates and key figures of the organizations, which were playing out on television sets all over the country. What resulted was a fascination with organized crime, an enchantment that spilled out of the TV and onto the silver screen. A string of crime films was released in the early 1950s, led by The Captive City in 1952. Directed by Robert Wise, this drama starred John Forsythe in his first leading role as a lone man fighting against an organized ring of corruption and greed. The film had the blessing of Kefauver himself: Wise took a print of the film to D.C. to show the senator, who not only endorsed it but even appears in the prologue and epilogue, cautioning audiences about the evils of organized crime.

Regarded as a Hollywood veteran, the oft-awarded Wise is known for the blockbuster musicals West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). His career began, however, as an errand boy at RKO in 1933; eight years later he edited Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) and earned his first Oscar nomination. In 1952 he partnered up with his old editorial assistant, director Mark Robson, to form Aspen Pictures. The Captive City was one of only two films produced by the venture (Robson's Return to Paradise in 1953 being the other) and was filmed entirely on location in Reno, Nevada. The film's subject matter was guaranteed to attract attention with its daring expose style, but it may have attracted the wrong kind. Wise reveals in his biography that he had two anonymous phone calls during filming that strongly recommended halting the project; he never discovered if the calls were genuine or pranks. A Reno police official did confirm, however, that several inquiries about the production had been made by minor gangland associates, presumably sent by higher-ups to scope out the situation.

The Captive City effectively skirts the line between film noir and documentary, making it a difficult movie to categorize. Certainly the visual mood created by lurking shadows and murky street lamps lends a noir-ish feel to the flick, while the intro and outro footage of Kefauver frame the story within a realistic context. The documentary feel of the film was bolstered by the use of the Hoge lens for filming, a recently developed wide-angle lens. This device enabled the cinematographer to maintain deep focus simultaneously for the foreground and background. The results were highly realistic visuals, which translated powerfully onscreen. Ralph Hoge, the lens' creator, was not only Wise's assistant on The Captive City, but also worked with him on Citizen Kane as a key grip.

Wise relied on film techniques, not movie stars, to sell the film. Indeed the only billed actor was John Forsythe, who would enjoy his greatest success later on television, starring in such series as Bachelor Father, Dynasty, and Charlie's Angels. Although The Captive City didn't make much of an impression on American audiences and critics at the time of its release - one critic declared it ". . . an exciting movie with only a few dull spots" - the film is a taut drama regarded as one of the noble early film efforts capitalizing on America's obsession with the underworld.

Producer: Theron Warth
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Alvin Josephy Jr., Karl Kamb
Production Design: Maurice Zuberano
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Film Editing: Ralph Swink
Original Music: Jerome Moross
Principal 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), Ian Wolfe (Reverend Nash).
BW-92m.

by Eleanor Quin

The Captive City

The Captive City

For the first half of 1951, America was captivated by the televised Kefauver Hearings. A special committee on organized crime, dubbed the Kefauver Committee after its chairman, Tennessee Senator Carey Estes Kefauver, had begun a nationwide tour ten months earlier interviewing over 800 crime witnesses. Their objective was to get a peek into the clandestine life of the underworld crime syndicate, a growing social problem since the end of World War II. Americans were transfixed by the testimonies of associates and key figures of the organizations, which were playing out on television sets all over the country. What resulted was a fascination with organized crime, an enchantment that spilled out of the TV and onto the silver screen. A string of crime films was released in the early 1950s, led by The Captive City in 1952. Directed by Robert Wise, this drama starred John Forsythe in his first leading role as a lone man fighting against an organized ring of corruption and greed. The film had the blessing of Kefauver himself: Wise took a print of the film to D.C. to show the senator, who not only endorsed it but even appears in the prologue and epilogue, cautioning audiences about the evils of organized crime. Regarded as a Hollywood veteran, the oft-awarded Wise is known for the blockbuster musicals West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). His career began, however, as an errand boy at RKO in 1933; eight years later he edited Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) and earned his first Oscar nomination. In 1952 he partnered up with his old editorial assistant, director Mark Robson, to form Aspen Pictures. The Captive City was one of only two films produced by the venture (Robson's Return to Paradise in 1953 being the other) and was filmed entirely on location in Reno, Nevada. The film's subject matter was guaranteed to attract attention with its daring expose style, but it may have attracted the wrong kind. Wise reveals in his biography that he had two anonymous phone calls during filming that strongly recommended halting the project; he never discovered if the calls were genuine or pranks. A Reno police official did confirm, however, that several inquiries about the production had been made by minor gangland associates, presumably sent by higher-ups to scope out the situation. The Captive City effectively skirts the line between film noir and documentary, making it a difficult movie to categorize. Certainly the visual mood created by lurking shadows and murky street lamps lends a noir-ish feel to the flick, while the intro and outro footage of Kefauver frame the story within a realistic context. The documentary feel of the film was bolstered by the use of the Hoge lens for filming, a recently developed wide-angle lens. This device enabled the cinematographer to maintain deep focus simultaneously for the foreground and background. The results were highly realistic visuals, which translated powerfully onscreen. Ralph Hoge, the lens' creator, was not only Wise's assistant on The Captive City, but also worked with him on Citizen Kane as a key grip. Wise relied on film techniques, not movie stars, to sell the film. Indeed the only billed actor was John Forsythe, who would enjoy his greatest success later on television, starring in such series as Bachelor Father, Dynasty, and Charlie's Angels. Although The Captive City didn't make much of an impression on American audiences and critics at the time of its release - one critic declared it ". . . an exciting movie with only a few dull spots" - the film is a taut drama regarded as one of the noble early film efforts capitalizing on America's obsession with the underworld. Producer: Theron Warth Director: Robert Wise Screenplay: Alvin Josephy Jr., Karl Kamb Production Design: Maurice Zuberano Cinematography: Lee Garmes Film Editing: Ralph Swink Original Music: Jerome Moross Principal 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), Ian Wolfe (Reverend Nash). BW-92m. by Eleanor Quin

Robert Wise (1914-2005)


Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.)

Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.

Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).

Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.

At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.

The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).

by Roger Fristoe

Robert Wise (1914-2005)

Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.) Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films. Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945). Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox. At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story. The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963). by Roger Fristoe

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was The Tightrope. A written foreword credited to Senator Estes Kefauver reads: "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." Kefauver also appears at the end of the film, stating that the real-life editor on whom the character of "Jim" was based was not killed, and as a result of his courage, the administration in his town became honest. Kefauver cautioned that local crime is never harmless and must be stamped out quickly by townspeople.
       In a May 1952 Los Angeles Daily News article, written by Robert Wise, the director stated that after hearing about Senator Kefauver's committee against organized crime, he located a newspaper series by journalist Alvin Josephy, Jr. about a local syndicate and persuaded Josephy to work with Karl Kamb to turn the articles into the screenplay for The Captive City. Wise reported that, while shooting the film in Reno, NV, he was watched by "underworld hoods." For more information about the Kefauver hearings, please see the entry below for the 1951 Twentieth Century-Fox documentary The Kefauver Crime Investigation.
       As noted by the onscreen credits, the film was photographed with the Hoge lenses, an invention by Ralph Hoge and Gregg Toland which, according to a March 1952 New York Times news item, enabled the director to shoot a clear, deep-focus shot with little light.
       The Captive City was the first release of Aspen Productions, a company owned by Wise and Mark Robson. In March 1952, Daily Variety reported that the company had signed John Forsythe to a five-picture contract. Joan Camden made her feature film debut in the picture. According to an April 1952 Variety item, The Captive City was previewed by crime reporters, editors, public prosecutors and citizens' committees. Los Angeles Examiner stated in May 1952 that the film's Los Angeles opening coincided with the opening of the Hollywood Park Racetrack and the attendant visit by Kefauver. On November 18, 1954, Gig Young and Betsy Palmer starred in a Lux Video Theatre version of the story.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring March 26, 1952

Released in United States Spring March 26, 1952