Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Phenix City Story

Bischoff Enterprises
Director: Phil Karlson
Length: 87 min.
Format: VHS
Date Viewed: 12 February

It seemed for a while that no film from the '50s was more intense than Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, but then I happened upon Phil Karlson's The Phenix City Story, based on true events in the titular city. This is one hardcore film, in which no child or woman is safe from vicious attacks in broad daylight or even murder. How this film got past the Production Code is curious, but it did, and its unflinching look at organized crime in the deep South is the film's biggest strength and perhaps the reason it works so well in riling the audience up against the real-life thugs.

It works despite bad acting (though James Edwards, as usual, brings strong acting skills and class to his role as Zeke, and Edward Andrews is good as the town's criminal kingpin), a preachy script, and an incredibly amateurish workmanship and style. The film as a whole is so unsubtle, worked-up and easily convincing (would you want child-murders running your town and have the police and courts in their pockets?) that it becomes a piece of propaganda, and even became a key advertising component in the campaign of the real-life Albert Patterson, who was running for Governor of Alabama as the film was released. As propaganda, the film is wildly effective, the anger I felt towards the criminals grew as the film went on and I was admittedly somewhat stirred by remarkably hokey mob scene. Seeing the people take power from a corrupt ruling class is a rousing image, and this is what The Phenix City Story such a great film.


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