City of Fear (1959)

Irving Lerner closes the second Columbia noir box just like he closed the first, though this time we’re dealing with a somewhat different beast. Another quickly turned-out job (seven days according to IMDB) starring Vince Edwards, but here he’s an escaped con who’s busted out of San Quentin with what he believes is a canister containing a pound of pure heroin… except it’s not heroin, it’s cobalt-60, it’s extremely radioactive, it hasn’t been stored properly, it’s killing Vince already and it could kill millions more if he’s fool enough to actually open the thing. In the meantime, the police have to find Vince and his container of hot radioactive death, and they have to do it without creating a public panic which could be the even harder part. I said Murder By Contract felt oddly like a 60s film, but this is more obviously 50s with the nuclear paranoia routine; I don’t recall the film offering any explanation for quite why this unspeakable dangerous material was being kept in such an unsafe container, and I suppose we’ll just have to accept it as another plot contrivance (and a pretty fucking big one at that). Unfortunately the film’s obviously limited resources do mean that the execution suffers a bit; I think a really good modern remake of this story would be possible now that could muster a bit more actual panic and thus a greater sense of danger; it’s only people who come into the presence of the thing who get hurt by it, and two of those are killed by Vince himself rather than by the radioactivity. It’s problematic, but it’s fairly well acted and shot well with some terrific shadows, and on the whole it makes a pretty fair conclusion to a pretty fair set of films.

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