20 October 2008 | dougdoepke
It Could Happen in Your Town
When newspaper editor John Forsythe and wife rush into the police station with an urgent tale told in flashback, I thought Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). In fact, there are a number of similarities between the two films. Here, however, the menace is not seeds from outer space but plain old organized crime. The story is told in grippingly fluent fashion by versatile director Robert Wise. I really like the way the film uses unfamiliar faces in the important supporting roles, giving the docu-drama a more authentic appearance.
Actually, the movie is rather educational since it reveals the various pressure points within a community where criminal influence can make a difference. Note how newspaper policy can be manipulated by advertising revenue; how church involvement can be influenced by congregation size; how police policy can be set by civic elders instead of the law. That is the point of the movie-- to show how a community can be corrupted by exploiting these various pressure points. At the time (1951), the Kefauver Committee on Organized Crime was making national headlines, accounting for the Senator's public service epilogue.
Surprisingly for a crime drama with noirish overtones, the violence and menace are mostly understated. Menace consists mainly of warnings to crusading editor Forsythe from ordinary-looking people. For me, however, the scariest part was neither the beating nor the hit-&-run, but the sudden transformation of affable used car salesman Andy (Jess Kirkpatrick). In social scenes showing the town's normality, Andy comes across as the typical friendly, outgoing salesman, but later, when the pressure's on, he slides into a startlingly sinister personality-- one of the many parallels with Body Snatchers.
Filming on location in grainy black&white amounts to a real plus for an authentic feel. Forsythe and Camden are excellent in their central roles, without going over the top. There's a low-key intensity to the narrative that rivets interest, but never reaches the emotional pitch of the sci-fi classic. In my book, this is one of those polished little B- productions that Hollywood used to turn out with some regularity. Too bad that they have no counterpart in today's over f-x'ed cinema.