Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
David Healey, the managing editor of the Chicago Telegraph , receives a visit from accountant Nelson Kern, who offers him a story about the complete infiltration of a crime syndicate across Chicago. Healey is dubious, but when Kern is shot dead in front of the newspaper offices, he runs Kern's story alleging an association with crime cartel boss Arnold Valent. Healey learns soon after that Kern's murder has prompted his wife to commit suicide and his daughter Joyce, living in Paris, to check into a Swiss sanitarium. Healey summons a number of Chicago businessmen together to inform them that Kern had requested that Healey serve as a mediator between him and the law and fingered the Unicorn Casualty and Life as the primary front for Valent's criminal activities. Healey and the police have discovered that Kern's assassin is one of Valent's associates, and the editor asks the businessmen to band together with the Telegraph and all the city papers to support financially an effort to link Unicorn with Valent and break his hold on Chicago. After the men agree, police lieutenant Pat Winters and Healey ask attorney, accountant and respected war hero Barry Amsterdam to infiltrate Valent's business. Barry initially balks at the proposition, but when Healey reveals that he will be paid $60,000, he agrees. Barry goes to The Maracas, a nightclub owned by Valent, where he meets Sue Morton, who reluctantly helps him sneak into the club's casino. There, Barry tells the club manager, Brad Lacey, to inform Valent that Kern's murder was witnessed. After leaving the club, Barry allows himself to be followed and knocked out. He is revived back at The Maracas by Valent's girl friend, singer Connie Peters. Valent questions Barry, who insists that he witnessed Kern's killing and names the assailant. In explanation for why he has not informed the police, Barry claims to have been kicked off the police force and demands money to remain quiet. Valent offers him a job at Unicorn Insurance and Barry accepts. Over the next several weeks, Barry works hard in the accounting division of Unicorn, fully aware that he is under constant surveillance. To win Valent's complete trust, Barry and the police arrange a phony jewelry theft of one of Unicorn's customers. When Barry informs Valent that he has had the claim withdrawn, Valent is impressed. Nevertheless, Valent sends two of his men disguised as policemen to find out if Barry will divulge the identity of Kern's murderer. Reassured of Barry's loyalty, Valent orders him to check on his various businesses to insure money is not being siphoned off. Once allowed access to Valent's widespread interests, Barry learns that the syndicate has nationwide connections, but still cannot uncover a direct link to Valent. One evening Barry finds Sue at The Maracas, flirting with Lacey, as Valent watches with interest. Sue then asks Barry to drive her home, but at her apartment he discovers that her real identity is Joyce Kern. He warns her about associating with Valent, but she pulls a gun and orders him away. The following day, Sue visits Barry to apologize after speaking to the police and learning that he is working undercover. Barry asks her to keep a low profile and to bring him all the information she has on her father. The two are interrupted when Valent summons Barry for an impromptu meeting in Chicago's slums to visit his mother, who unwittingly keeps her son's private ledgers. Barry is excited to have access to the books, but is unable to stop Valent from burning them afterward. Valent then offers Barry a partnership, with the stipulation that everything be in Barry's name. That evening Sue brings Barry her father's papers, which include an order for microfilm. Barry traces the order and, learning that the microfilm contains several ledgers that provide a motive for Kern's murder, deduces that Connie retrieved the film. Certain the microfilm must have long been destroyed, Barry meets with Healey and Sue to admit that he does not believe that Valent can be exposed, but they convince him to continue. Recalling that Valent exhibited interest in Sue, Barry wonders if they can make Connie jealous enough to testify against Valent. Barry then presents Sue to Valent as his girl friend, but when Valent shows interest, stands aside. Over the following week Valent dates Sue, and Connie grows increasingly agitated. When Barry arranges for the police to take a shot at Connie, she goes to Valent, believing he ordered the attempted hit, and threatens to go to the district attorney with the microfilm. Valent has Connie beaten, but she refuses to reveal the location of the film, until The Maracas' band leader, Benny Chico, distraught over the beating, states that Connie had given the film to him to hide. Valent, Barry and his men retrieve the film in a small shop, but when Valent tries to burn it, Barry grabs it and flees through a series of underground tunnels. Valent wounds Barry, but when they surface near his mother's apartment, the police await and kill Valent. The microfilm provides the crucial evidence needed, and the syndicate's hold on Chicago is ended.
Fred F. Sears
Fred Jackman Jr.
The plot of Chicago Syndicate kicks off with the murder of a mob accountant who shared inside information with a newspaper journalist. O'Keefe's character, also an accountant, is soon recruited to go undercover with the same criminal organization. The ring's leader, Arnie Valent, is played by Paul Stewart, who had come to Hollywood by way of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, where he had been part of the notorious War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Stewart also had a small role as Raymond the butler in Citizen Kane (1941) and among other memorable parts, he played the sportswriter/narrator of The Joe Louis Story (1953). Chicago Syndicate also features Allison Hayes as the dead accountant's daughter who is seeking justice for her slain father. Hayes is best known for playing the title role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). Rounding out the cast of Chicago Syndicate is Abbe Lane, who plays Valent's girlfriend, and her husband Xavier Cugat, who appears as bandleader Benny Chico.
As for the star of the film, Dennis O'Keefe was nearing the end of his movie career when he made Chicago Syndicate. Early on, starting in 1930, O'Keefe had paid his dues playing bit parts in well over a hundred movies. He appeared in everything from Anna Karenina (1935) to Duck Soup (1933). Finally, in 1937, O'Keefe broke through with a leading role in The Bad Man of Brimstone. After that, he would continue playing lead or secondary roles in films such as The Leopard Man (1943), The Fighting Seabees (1944), Brewster's Millions (1945) and T-Men (1947). O'Keefe would even have his own TV series, called The Dennis O'Keefe Show, briefly in the late 50s.
The director behind Chicago Syndicate was Fred F. Sears. A career Columbia man, Sears got his start in the movies as an actor, taking small, uncredited parts in films like The Return of Rusty and The Jolson Story (both 1946). He moved behind the camera in 1949 to direct Desert Vigilante, the first in a line of Charles Starrett westerns that Sears would work on. His two best-known films were both released in 1956 the rock musical Rock Around the Clock and the alien invasion flick Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
Chicago Syndicate ended up being something of a headache for Columbia because the studio and producer Sam Katzman were all reportedly sued over the title of the film. Apparently King Bros. Productions claimed they had registered the title The Syndicate and that "Columbia's use of the title Chicago Syndicate usurped their title deliberately, willfully and fraudulently." In the end it all came to nothing because the King Bros.' movie was never made.
Director: Fred F. Sears
Screenplay: Joseph Hoffman, William Sackheim
Cinematography: Henry Freulich, Fred Jackman, Jr.
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Art Direction: Isaak Kaplan
Music: Ross DiMaggio
Cast: Dennis O'Keefe (Barry Amsterdam), Paul Stewart (Arnie Valent), Abbe Lane (Connie Peters), Xavier Cugat (Benny Chico), Allison Hayes (Joyce Kern), Richard H. Cutting (David Healey).
by Stephanie Thames
The film opens with the following voice-over quote from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg: "Chicago: hog butcher for the world, tool maker, stacker of wheat, player with railroads and the nations freight handler. Stormy, husky, brawling; city of big shoulders." The poem is credited in the onscreen credits as "Poem 'Chicago' from Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg (Holt)." Sandburg's poem was published in 1916.
A January 1955 Daily Variety news item notes that Columbia, producer Sam Katzman, Clover Productions, the Katzman Corp, and twenty Does and five Doe corporations were sued by King Bros. Productions for $1,000,000 in connection with Chicago Syndicate. King Bros. charged unfair competition, asserting that they had registered and renewed the title The Syndicate with the MPAA Title Bureau in preparation for the making of a high-budget film and that Columbia's use of the title Chicago Syndicate usurped their title "deliberately, willfully and fraudulently." The outcome of the suit has not been determined. The King Bros. movie was apparently never produced.