24 September 2010 | dougdoepke
A crackling good melodrama from the socially conscious studio of record, Warner Bros.
Director Heisler really knows his way around crowds. The boisterous scenes in the bowling alley and liquor lounge are electric with vitality and look nothing like a bunch of Hollywood extras. At the same time, Jerry Wald was a major producer at Warner's and I expect it was he who made sure the small town ambiance is as authentic as it is. There are elements here that suggest a project somewhere between A and B levels of production.
Catch those earmarks of noir in just the first few minutes—the all-night bus, the train whistle, the dampened streets, and the lonely diner. Right away a menacing universe is defined for us. But oddly, this is a KKK film that never once mentions race and shows, by my count, only one black person. Odd for a drama, which by implication takes place in the deep South. My guess is that the writers Brooks and Fuchs wanted to show that the Klan is not only a menace to Blacks, but Whites, as well.
It's a fairly plausible script, though how a DA (Reagan) could get elected with such out- spoken anti-Klan views remains a stretch. What really works, in my book, is the chemistry between the sisters (Day & Rogers). Not only do they look alike, but there's genuine warmth between them. Thus, it's no stretch to think that Marsha (Rogers) would do nothing to jeopardize Lucy's (Day) happiness. And how visually right Cochran is for his part as the blue-collar Romeo, though his sniveling seems overdone at times.
I really like the way the screenplay embeds the Klan in the very fabric of the town. These are not ordinary hoodlums despite their violent activities, and a bolder script would have shown more fully what the attraction of the Klan was for these townsfolk (there's one loaded mention of making sure women can walk safely down the street). There were a number of these racially charged dramas during this period—No Way Out (1950), The Well (1951), Lost Boundaries (1949)—and all are strong dramas, including this one. However, the McCarthy purges soon put an end to social problem films for the remainder of the decade, and now they await rediscovery by fresh generations. This is one of them.