Irving Lerner
USA 1959
81 min

It narrates the story of an escaped convict from San Quentin named Vince Ryker (Vinve Edwards), who has taken flight with what he believes to be a canister containing one million dollars worth of pure heroin, but which in reality holds a deadly from of radioactive cobalt-60. The police must locate Ryker within seventy-two hours, or before the canister is opened, if the city is to avoid radiaction contamination. Realizing the uncontrollable panic that news of the contents of the canister would produce, Chief Jensen (Lyle Talbot), Lieutenant Mark Richards (John Archer) and Dr. Wallace (Steven Ritch) of the Radiological Section of the Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District must conduct their investigation «with desperate speed and in top secrecy», qualities that characterize the labor of detection in the 1950s nuclear-terrorism genre. Ryker steals the car and clothing of a travelling salesman and enters Los Angeles, evading detection by the authorities. Unrecognizeable because of his disguised appearance and stolen automobile, he is nonetheless easily detectable through the radiation emitted by the canister that remains by his side and steadily disintegrates his body. Driving through the streets of Los Angeles with Geiger counters mounted on police cars, an image that secures the significance of City of Fear in any history of the modalities of postwar cinematic and spatial surveillance, the radiological squad divides the city into quadrants and begins to track his movements.
Ryker becomes increasingly ill and delirious as a result of his exposure to the radioactive canister, and his automobile travels through Los Angeles present his deteriorating body against the backdrop of the city's already vaporized urban space. The film's moment of great panic occurs when he loses the steel canister in a gas station, a glass and white-walled modernist box from which he subsequently retrieves it lying innocently in the display window. In such scenes, with which City of Fear is replete, the film intimates the lapsed innocence of an earlier modernism. It proposes both the International Style gas station and nuclear terrorism as products of technological civilization and its telos of self-destruction. It is tempting to identify City of Fear as one of the very last films produced in the original noir circle. Filmed in seven and a half days and produced for under 100.000 dollars, it appeared during the twilight era of the B-movie. Growing competition from television - suggested by the film's penultimate image of rooftop antennas - and changes in the vertical integration of the motion picture industry had come to eliminate the double bill. City of Fear signals the end of one form of urban culture and embraces the dispersed city with an eerie hopefulness, signaled by the quite strains of Jerry Goldsmith's musical score.

This film is screened together with <filmlink id=\"2808\">Murder by Contract</filmlink>.
1958, Irving Lerner

  • Steven Ritch
  • Vince Edwards
  • Joseph Mell
  • Lyle Talbot
  • John Archer
  • Patricia Blair
  • Kelly Thordsen
Leon Chooluck
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