United Artists deserves credit for this attempt to combine semi-documentary crime data with a plea for grassroot citizen reform. Thanks to imaginative direction and a fastmoving scenario, Captive City ranks well above average as a crime saga. Its moral message is somewhat less impressive.
The film's plot centers on the efforts of editor Jim Austin (John Forsythe) to clean-up his mythical home town of Kennington. Austin stumbles onto the workings of an interstate gambling syndicate almost accidentally and is drawn into a web of fear and violence as he uncovers details of its operations. Excellent directive touches, like the sudden shift from the scream of a dying man to a blaring horn at the Country Club dance, symbolize Austin's transition from naive upper-middler to a hunted animal. And as his investigation gets nearer the truth, Captive City illustrates just how police pressure can be put on any reform drive that gets too embarrassing. Cambridge residents may recognize the "parking meter routine"--where police suddenly become overzealous in enforcing traffic regulations on certain cars.
But precisely because Captive City portrays both gambling syndicate and reform attempt so accurately, it is ineffective as a call for citizen action against crime. For as editor Austin struggles through his crusade he finds roadblocks placed in his path by familiar Chamber-of-Commerce types, who don't want any reform to interfere with business, and by a compromising police bureaucracy. Even the Kindly Local Pastor backs down when it comes to chastizing his own parishioners; he's satisfied with Sunday Morning Christianity. So although Captive City ends with a short tirade against sin by the Tennessee Theotonius, Senator Kefauver, one gets the feeling that few people in Kennington--or anywhere else--really give a damn.