Maybe you could call it a ‘noir’, or perhaps a post-noir, though it’d be a stretch, but more likely most would consider Columbia’s 1959 City Of Fear another so-so thriller with an inexplicable cult following. I refer to it periodically because it’s set in the same year as the projects I’m working on: 1959.
Despite the Los Angeles setting, this film really captures the look and ‘feel’ of much of what I’m doing (which commences in the Spring of ’59, but far away in Chicago’s bungalow belt). Trying to capture that ‘feel’ for an era sixty years gone is a challenge. When we think ‘fifties’, we tend to think of malt shops, poodle skirts, ponytails and leather jacketed juvies. But the late fifties, like the very early sixties, share a slightly different look that I’m determined to get right. Skip the occasional palm tree and the mountains in the background, and a lot of City Of Fear’s exterior locations and even the low-rent interiors just seem to nail it for me – the clothes, the cars, the buildings and so many little details.
Directed by Irving Lerner with a script by Robert Dillon and Steven Ritch (a sometimes actor best known to horror fans as the star and titular monster in the not-that-bad The Werewolf from 1956), City of Fear stars Vince Edwards (TV’s Ben Casey) as escaped convict Vince Ryker, who busted out with a fellow inmate and what they think is a canister of pure heroin that’ll soon be their bankroll. But the container’s actually filled with radioactive Cobalt-60, and Vince’s pal is already dying from exposure. Sneaking past police roadblocks in disguise, Vince gets to his girl, played by Patricia Blair, who does an excellent job in this flick, and was probably thrilled to be playing something other than a frontier woman for once, much of her career spent as ‘the wife’ or love interest in retro TV westerns like Daniel Boone, The Rifleman and Yancy Derringer.
In City Of Fear, Blair could be a character right in my own material. Not the hero, but definitely one of the secondaries, and any one of multiple characters in the now-on-hold sequel’s manuscript. She’s a real treat in this film, and much more fun to watch than Vince Edwards.
The movie’s mostly a race against time, the police desperate to track down Vince and the lethal canister (which goes missing) which could knock off all of L.A. I’m not suggesting you download or race to buy City of Fear unless you’re also in the middle of a project set in 1959. But for me, this film works like a reference manual.