Jerry McKibbon is a tough, no nonsense reporter, mentoring special prosecutor John Conroy in routing out corrupt officials in the city, which may even include Conroy's own police detective father as a suspect.
In a racially-mixed American town, a 5-year-old black girl falls unnoticed into a hidden, forgotten well on her way to school. With nothing better to go on, the police follow up a report that the child was seen with a white stranger, and rumors run wild. Before hapless, innocent Claude Packard is even found, popular hysteria has him tried and convicted. But Packard's troubles pale by comparison as ever more-inflated rumors uncap the well of racial tensions and mob violence. And young Carolyn Crawford, forgotten by most, is still missing.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Unusually bold look at racial tension ultimately lacks courage of its convictions
In 1951, Rosa Parks had not yet declined to move to the back of the bus, the schools had yet to be desegregated, and pleas for racial equality were generally spurned as part of a `pinko' agenda. So It must have taken some measure of courage to make this movie, for one of its two themes is racism. Its second theme and the one that ultimately trumps the first involves the rescue of a little black girl (and parallels, minus the cynicism, Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole/The Big Carnival of the same year).
The trouble starts with the girl's disappearance. Rumors start to fly: A stranger was seen buying her a clump of posies. Is a child-killer on the loose? Will he get away with it because he's white? Soon fist-fights, beatings and acts of arson, all committed on racial grounds, tear the down apart. The drifter (Harry Morgan), when found, proves to be related to a town big-wheel who, when his construction company is set afire, becomes the chief rabble-rouser. The townsfolk of color, meanwhile, clamor for Morgan's hide. It falls to the sheriff (Richard Rober) first to locate the girl then to stem the violence before a lynch mob coalesces. Suddenly, by chance, the girl is discovered deep down an abandoned well....
Probably, in 1951, there was no way out of the story than the one taken. But it's pure Hollywood which is to say, a harp concerto played on the heart strings. The whole town, black and white, joins together in a tense, all-night rescue effort helmed by the construction magnate and Morgan, who luckily happens to be a mining engineer. (Here, something curious occurs. The digging of a parallel shaft, with monstrous drill-bits assaulting the earth to Dimitri Tiomkin's pounding score, becomes all but abstract and primitively, uncomfortably sexual.)
The minor but ever interesting Russell Rouse wrote and, in his first go, directed The Well (though he shares that credit with producer Leo Popkin). It features a large (and largely unknown) cast who bring authenticity and occasionally depth to their roles. The story holds attention despite a glaring break in the middle, when the focus shifts from racism to rescue. And again, for its era, it was bold and topical (brutal race riots plagued post-war America). But from a modern perspective, it just ends too soon. The uplifting rescue will be the talk of the town for three days, while the ugliness that flared up will linger on. There's not a hint of that at the conclusion, with Tiomkin outdoing even John Williams in gaudy triumphalism.
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