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The real irony, when viewing this film, is the way it views those who lobby for special interests in Washington (and the "marketing" of candidates, skewing polling data to achieve the desired results whether the sampling or data is fair or not) has become the norm in our own era. Hence, the villain in this film is pretty much doing the same sort of thing a Karl Rove does now, but we've just changed our perspective on it. The film purports a high tone of moral outrage at political practices which completely dominate our own time.
That to me is the most fascinating thing about this film (which is well-made in a clearly B-picture sort of way: not too many sets, a conspicuously minor set of actors except for Dana Andrews--though I agree with others posting here that Mel Torme's performance is a standout--and a certain unadventurousness in the visuals and pacing, despite Tourneur's presence at the helm). By watching the film, we are made aware just how much we've come to accept certain the vast "untruthfulness" or immorality of the way politicians are marketed and elected. It's as though all of the things deplored in this film have completely become "business as usual" in our time, seemingly because the desire to operate this way in politics has survived tenaciously despite the occasional railing against it the way this film does. These days you might hear objections from alternate news sources or fringe publications to this type of deceptive political lobbying and marketing, but other than that it's clearly our daily contemporary political reality being objected to so strenuously 45 years ago in THE FEARMAKERS. While the film unfolds tightly and economically enough, it does suffer from a certain "pat-ness" concerning the plot coincidences concerning the doctor character Andrews meets on the plane at the beginning of the film. That whole subplot unfolds too easily within the overall story, as though the already claustrophobically tiny world of the characters of this movie couldn't possibly expand enough for some randomness or ambiguity between it's small ensemble of characters. Is there no-one in Washington who isn't in some way related to this plot? If memory serves, I don't believe there is ever a line spoken by anyone in this film who is not in some way part of the web of characters involved somehow for or against the unfolding scam, even though we are in cabs, in hotels, in a boarding house, on a plane, and in the city of Washington, throughout.
Still, it's worth the time invested, and presents a curiously brusque performance by Andrews. His character is supposed to be tired and unstable after his ordeal in Korea, and yet it's difficult to know whether the occasionally zombie-like performance of Andrews in this film is entirely intentional. The actor himself seems fatigued and lethargic at times-- is that all for the sake of the character? But there are enough little twists and surprises in this film to hold our interest, and if the film feels at time like an extended episode of the old Perry Mason TV series, that's not necessarily a bad thing if you like that sort of presentation (as I admittedly do).
I'd also agree with others here that this is a film ripe for a remake, although there is no doubt it would be a COMPLETELY different movie, with a completely different moral sense.
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