While Columbia’s 1959 production City of Fear is included in the Columbia Film Noir Classics II DVD boxed set and while it does certainly have affinities with film noir it really belongs to another characteristic 1950s movie, the “terror in the streets” paranoia movie.
Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards) is on his way to LA, having just escaped from San Quentin, killing a guard in the process. Ryker has however done something much cleverer than merely escaping - he has also stolen a steel flask containing a million dollars’ worth of heroin from the prison infirmary. The heroin was being used in experimental trials on prisoners. Or at least that’s what Vince thinks. In fact the flask contains Cobalt-60 in granular form. That flask isn’t going to make him rich, it’s going to make him dead, and it could make a lot of other people dead as well. In fact it could make the whole population of Los Angeles dead!
Of course the police will need help from scientists. Dr John Wallace (Steven Ritch), who looks every inch a typical 1950s movie scientist, will provide that help. The police will also be able to call on the assistance of the Enforcement Branch of the Air Pollution Control authorities. I had no idea that such a thing even existed in 1959 but according to this movie they not only existed but had numerous patrol vehicles. These vehicles are soon cruising the streets, equipped with geiger counters.
Naturally a hoodlum like Vince has a no-good dame for a girlfriend, in this case the very hardbitten June Marlowe (Patricia Blair). Lieutenant Mark Richards (John Archer), the detective in charge of the case, has very little success in persuading any of these police to help the police.
It’s a race against time. That steel flask provides no barrier to radiation and everywhere that Vince goes he leaves behind him a trail of radioactivity and a trail of people exposed to that deadly Cobalt-60.
Vince Edwards did a couple of extremely good late 50s noirs including the excellent Murder by Contract. He had the ability to be rather chilling and psychotic while still bringing some complexity to his characterisations. He gives a fine performance here as the deluded loser Ryker.
Patricia Blair is wonderfully hardboiled as June. June is a very unsympathetic character but she’s entertaining. The other players are generally solid and workmanlike.
Plunder Road). Jerry Goldsmith provides the very dramatic music while the movie’s noir credentials are enhanced by the work of ace cinematographer Lucien Ballard.
The ethical dilemma faced by Chief Jensen adds an extra interesting touch although the real emphasis of the movie is the race against time to find Ryker and the Cobalt-60.
The transfer is anamorphic and it’s superb. The only significant extra is a brief spiel by Christopher Nolan which provides nothing whatsoever of substance.
City of Fear is a decent and rather enjoyable little movie. Recommended.