Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
Lee J. Cobb
On a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Miami, Florida, criminal attorney Raymond Sheridan offers to pay lobbyist Oliver Tubbs $1,000,000 to direct a campaign to legalize gambling in Florida. Meanwhile, at the Miami police Homicide Department, Lt. Bart Scott tells his superior and good friend, Capt. Harry Elkins, that he plans to retire in two years. Bart then goes home to have dinner with fiancée Anne Easton and her young son Stevie. Anne, whose police officer husband was killed in the line of duty, has refused to marry Bart until he retires from the force. While Anne prepares dinner, Elkins receives an anonymous tip about a stabbing at the Cromwell Hotel and goes to investigate. Bart's tranquil evening then comes to an abrupt end when he is notified that the dead body of Elkins and that of an unidentified gunman have been discovered at the Cromwell. Hurrying to the hotel, Bart learns that a woman was seen running out of the room just after the murders. Meanwhile, Morrie Pell, the hotel assassin, reports to his employer, Sheridan, that Lila Hodges, the slain gunman's wife, witnessed the killings, prompting Sheridan to order Pell to kill her, too. After the dead man is identified as Joey Hodges, a triggerman working for gangster Louis Ascot, who runs a gambling organization in Havana, Bart realizes that the woman seen fleeing the scene must be Joey's wife Lila and deduces she must have sought refuge with Louis in Cuba. Upon arriving in Havana, Bart drives to Louis' villa and announces that he plans to take Lila back to Miami as a material witness. Lila is reluctant to go until Pell takes a shot at her and misses, convincing her that it would be safer to be in police custody in Miami. When both Louis and Lila refuse to reveal what Joey was doing in Miami, Bart decides to intimidate them into talking. Rather than taking Lila directly back to Miami, Bart squires her around town, making her a target. After Lila is shot at once again, Bart, aware that Louis has long been in love with Lila, tells the gambler that he plans to make Lila a walking target until his questions are answered. Lila's peril compels Bart to reveal that Joey was in Miami to put an end to the push for legalized gambling in the state. Louis then discloses that Sheridan has hired Tubbs to advance his interests and was responsible for Joey's murder. Bart escorts Lila back to Miami, but when she is poisoned on the flight home, Bart decides to make Sheridan believe that Lila is dead so that he will lower his guard. After publicizing Lila's death, Bart secludes her in his cabin in the Everglades, along with Anne, Stevie and police officer Tim Grogan. Sheridan, meanwhile, uses bribery and blackmail to accelerate his campaign, but Tubbs balks when Sheridan forces him to blackmail Harry Tremont, an upstanding citizen, into supporting his campaign. After Tremont refuses to capitulate, Sheridan orders him killed. When Louis discovers Lila's hideout in the swamps, Bart, concerned that Sheridan's thugs may have followed Louis, conceives of a plan to flush out Sheridan. After Bart brings Tubbs in for questioning about Tremont's murder, he deliberately switches on the intercom, then walks out of the office to confer with the police chief. In the adjacent office, Bart tells the chief that Lila is alive and able to link Tubbs to Sheridan. As soon as he is released, Tubbs informs Sheridan what he has heard. After instructing Tubbs to leave the country immediately, Sheridan sends Pell and his thugs to kill Lila. Having tailed Louis on his boat trip through the Everglades, Pell realizes that Lila must be hiding there and hires a boat captain to take them into the swamps. Before departing, the captain alerts Bart, and Bart then phones Grogan to warn him about the killers' arrival. As Bart hands out guns to Lila and Anne so that they can defend themselves, Lila becomes hysterical, but young Stevie's courage steadies her. When the captain stalls for time to allow the police boat to catch up, Pell becomes impatient and orders him to speed up. When the thugs dock, Lila, Grogan and Anne fend them off with their weapons, Soon after, Bart and reinforcements arrive and apprehend Pell and his gang. As Bart and Anne embrace, Lila shyly links her arm through Grogan's. At Sheridan's villa, the police find Sheridan shot dead, and a dazed Tubbs sitting across from him, gun in hand.
Fred F. Sears
Lee J. Cobb
Barry L. Connors
Have I got your attention? Filmmakers have been pulling that gimmick for decades. If the makers of Law and Order: Classic, Diet Law and Order, and Law and Order: Short Attention Span Unit had lived in the 1950s, they'd have been cranking out pulp thrillers alongside Sam Katzman.
Katzman epitomized the "make it fast, make it cheap, and make it again" philosophy of mid-century exploitation film. His contemporaries and peers like Roger Corman and William Castle ended up as pop culture heroes, lauded as pioneers of American indie film-Katzman failed to turn his own name into a brand identity and so missed out on such accolades. But don't be fooled-you may not know his name, but he was a profit-making machine for Columbia Pictures. He worked in all genres, with the savvy to stay on top of cultural moods and trends. Horror, action, comedy-it didn't matter. If there was an easily-identifiable audience to target, he was there. And real life in the 1950s happily handed him just such a market.
Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver-a name only a democracy could love-led the good fight against corporate corruption, monopolies, and organized crime. His televised Congressional hearings were pop cultural events that introduced the very idea of the Mafia to most Americans. Suddenly, low-budget moviemakers rushed to turn Kefauver's dry courtroom drama into delirious pulp fiction.
The titles were made like Mad Libs: [name of big city] Confidential, or [name of big city] Expose! The film that followed such a name was just as much the work of a standardized template. Gone were the rich chiaroscuro lighting effects and Gothic design that characterized the films noir of the decade past. These things were meant to look like documentaries, so some slapdash production technique only added to the grit. Add some narration at the open, to make it sound educational and authoritative - and for garnish add a prologue with some real-life official introducing the self-important melodrama to come.
Thus, Miami Expose (1956): the story of how organized crime sought to bring legalized gambling to Florida, which suave gangster Ray Sheridan (Alan Napier) expected to control from behind the scenes using his extensive network of corrupt officials. Miami's then-Mayor Randy Christmas introduces the film from his desk (or a reasonable film set facsimile) before an unidentified narrator takes over. The film begins with a plane crash (which is only sort of pictured) that sets events into motion: in late 1955 and throughout 1956, Florida was the site of a startling number of plane wrecks. Passenger airliners, Army troop transports, small crop dusters-if it flies, it went down in Florida in the mid-1950s. Whether any of these genuine tragedies was intended as the reference point of the film, and if so which one, is unclear.
The shadow of Fritz Lang's 1953 thriller The Big Heat hangs heavy across this B-level production. Despite the sun-soaked Florida settings, screenwriter Robert E. Kent (working under his usual pseudonym James B. Gordon) and director Fred Sears clearly have Lang's picture firmly in mind. A criminal mastermind sits at the center of a secret web laced throughout the corrupted underbelly of an unsuspecting society, a hard-boiled cop dares stand up to him, and the key to the mystery lies in a gangster's moll who knows too much. As Lt. Barton Scott, star Lee J. Cobb makes for a more believable if less marquee-friendly cop hero than The Big Heat's Glenn Ford. He even gets a few scenes of humanizing family life reminiscent of similar material in Lang's film-but with a nice extra touch, in that Barton is not married, he is courting a single mother who lost her first husband to the violence of police life, a constant reminder to all concerned of what is at stake.
Cynical viewers jaded by contemporary crime thrillers may find the story addled by cliché, but it was films like these that first set such familiar tropes into place: Lt. Scott is on the verge of retirement, but when his partner is killed by the gangsters it gets personal. Once the mystery gets rolling, though, there are some unsuspected details. The film is awfully cavalier about putting children into danger, which leads to one especially nice moment as Patricia Medina's character (a former gangster moll) starts to spin into unhinged hysteria only to be shamed by the realization that she's next to a five-year-old kid, and he isn't afraid.
Alan Napier makes for a suave villain-and in one scene shows off a remarkably buff physique (he was 53 years old at the time). He was a busy and well-regarded character actor still ten years away from entering pop cultural immortality as the butler to TV's Batman. His stooge, lobbyist Oliver Tubbs, featured the final screen appearance of the once popular star and former president of the Screen Actor's Guild, Edward Arnold.
Sears was one of Katzman's most reliable workhorse directors (and in turn Gordon/Kent was one of his most dependable scribblers). The start of 1956 found producer Katzman obliged by the changing exhibition landscape to abandon one of his bread-and-butter production lines, the weekly cliffhanger serial. The money that had been earmarked for such stuff was simply folded into his slate of features, making it possible to slightly increase the budgets for things such as Miami Expose, the first film Katzman oversaw under the new budgeting arrangement. It had been announced as Miami Shakedown, but underwent a title change as Sears and his team shot on location in the Everglades and pre-Castro Cuba in March of 1956. The result spotlights some of the more interesting cinematography by Benjamin Kline, whose CV otherwise includes handling cinematography for most of the Three Stooges shorts
At 74 minutes, Miami Expose is a lean and gangly thing, an unpretentious programmer that delivers its promised thrills and moves on. For Katzman that was enough. "Lord knows I'll never make an Academy Award movie, but then I am just as happy to get my achievement plaques from the bank every year," he said in a 1953 interview.
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Fred F. Sears
Screenplay: James B. Gordon
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editing: Al Clark
Cast: Lee J. Cobb (Lt. Barton 'Bob' Scott), Patricia Medina (Lila Hodges), Edward Arnold (Oliver Tubbs), Michael Granger (Louis Ascot), Eleanore Tanin (Ann Easton), Alan Napier (Ray Sheridan), Harry Lauter (Det. Tim Grogan), Chris Alcaide (Morrie Pell, Gunman), Hugh Sanders (Chief Charles Landon), Barry L. Connors (Stevie Easton).
by David Kalat
LeRoy Ashby, With Amusement For All
Wheeler Winston Dixon, Lost in the Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood
The working titles of this film were Shakedown on Biscayne Bay, Shakedown on Biscayne Drive and Biscayne Bay. The film begins with an onscreen narrator explaining that "this is a stunning exposé based on fact concerning a vicious attempt by organized crime to take over the entire state of Florida. But for the alert and courageous work of Florida's law enforcement agencies and the integrity of government administrations, the threat May have been made good." The film continues in a semi-documentary style, featuring commentary by an offscreen narrator.
According to a February 1956 Los Angeles Times news item, Dennis O'Keefe was originally to star in the film. Although a March 1956 Los Angeles Times news item notes that ventriloquist Rickie Lane was conferring about a part in the picture, Lane does not appear in the released film. According to a March 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Robert Kent was originally to have written the screenplay. The Variety review notes that background shooting was done in Havana, Cuba, Miami, FL and the Florida Everglades.
Although Miami Exposé was produced as a low-budget production and tradeshown in July 1956, Columbia executives decided to withhold it from general release until September 1956 so that the studio could build up the publicity campaign and release it as a major production, according to a July 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item. The film marked the last performance of Edward Arnold, who died on April 26, 1956. Although some sources cite The Ambassador's Daughter, which was shot earlier but released around the same time as Miami Exposé, as Arnold's last film, according to the Variety review, the longtime character actor was fatally stricken while making Miami Exposé.