The Phenix City Story (1955)

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A crime-busting lawyer and his initially reluctant attorney father take on the forces that run gambling and prostitution in their small Southern town.



(screenplay), (screenplay) (as Dan Mainwaring)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Albert L. Patterson
John Patterson
Ellie Rhodes
Rhett Tanner
Lenka Peterson ...
Mary Jo Patterson
Biff McGuire ...
Fred Gage
Truman Smith ...
Ed Gage
Jean Carson ...
Kathy Marlowe ...
Mamie (as Katharine Marlowe)
John Larch ...
Clem Wilson
Allen Nourse ...
Jeb Bassett
James Edwards ...
Zeke Ward
Helen Ward
Hugh Bentley
George Mitchell ...
Hugh Britton


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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Exposed in LIFE, LOOK and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST! Now the year's greatest screen sensation! See more »


Crime | Drama | Film-Noir


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

14 August 1955 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Cidade do Vício  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (without prologue)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The film was in production so quickly, some of the criminals it was portraying were standing trial while filming was taking place. See more »


When the body of Zeke Ward's little girl is thrown onto the Pattersons' lawn from the passing car, it is obviously a doll. See more »


Albert L. Patterson: Rhett, I'm not stickin' my neck out. Why should I? Phoenix City has been what it is for 80, 90 years. Who am I to try to reform it?
See more »


Referenced in Bad Seed (2000) See more »


Phenix City Blues
Music and Lyrics by Harold Spina
Sung by Meg Myles
See more »

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User Reviews

A Very Good Movie, But Not Exactly Enjoyable
29 September 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"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.

Grade: A

13 of 16 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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anybody know a VHS or DVD source for this film? majortom-4
You think that was the end of corruption is Phenix city? laranadtony
TV showing in July reporterdan66
Cut Before Release? urish
How? MrsFeasterBunny
Version with John Patterson ending? quixotism-9
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