In this semidocumentary, an Alabama town is run by a crime syndicate that's grown fat on prostitution and crooked gambling, directed at soldiers from Fort Benning across the river. Lawyer John Patterson, back from the army, is triggered by what he sees to join the reformers with a plan: to run his father Albert for state attorney general. The syndicate responds with escalating violence: is no one safe? Credits preceded by a "newscast" containing spoilers. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The Phenix City Story" is a brutal, hard-hitting docudrama about what was once dubbed the "wickedest town in America." The film documents the events that led up to the murder by the Phenix City crime syndicate of Albert Patterson, an Alabama attorney who made a bid for the state attorney general's office as a way to clean up the vice and corruption plaguing his hometown. His son, John Patterson, picked up his father's mantle after his death and won the post, making clean up of Phenix City a primary item on his agenda.
Director Phil Karlson created a film that has the ability to shock even today. The grimness is so relentless that the film is actually difficult to watch. We see the crime syndicate beat and kill in order to get what they want -- the beatings and killings include women and children, and one scene in particular, revolving around the death of a little black girl, is especially disturbing. It's not exactly an enjoyable film, because there's very little payoff at the end to reward the viewer for sitting through the infuriating events leading up to it, but it's a well made film, full of an intense and angry energy.
A 15-minute prologue includes a series of interviews with the actual inhabitants of Phenix City, some of who are then portrayed by actors in the fictional portion of the film. It lends the film a quality of urgency that carries over into the narrative, so that we feel like we're watching a documentary the entire time, a feeling that's helped by Karlson's choice to film on actual locations.
I'm glad I saw this movie, but it's one of those films that fills you with a sense of righteous indignation and then makes you feel helpless because you can't do anything about it.
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