Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1951. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, Richard Brooks. Cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie. Produced by Jerry Wald. Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof. Production Design by Leo K. Kuter. Costume Design by Milo Anderson. Film Editing by Clarence Kolster.
Ginger Rogers gets off a bus before reaching her final destination, she’s a dress model on her way to a sales conference who decides to stop off in the town where her sister lives because she hasn’t seen her in some time. Almost immediately, she’s plunged in a strange world that director Stuart Heisler creates with fascinating eeriness: the cab driver tells her there are no taxis, the bus station turns off all its lights and she has no choice but to walk ten blocks to the recreation center where her sister (played by Doris Day) works. En route she witnesses a murder, seeing a crowd of Klansmen exit the town’s courthouse with a bound man who they kill before her eyes. Her sister tells her that the victim was a visiting newspaper man who had been writing about the Klan’s influence in their town, and that the hooded figures that Rogers saw were showing him up for his interference. Rogers is anxious to get out of this nightmare of a town, but things get tricky when a key figure in the murder turns out to be closer to home than originally thought. When prosecutor Ronald Reagan steps in to get an indictment for the murder, Rogers wants to testify but is cowed into submission by complicated stakes that this film’s brilliant screenplay piles on so beautifully. This terrifying drama grabs you from the beginning and never lets go, featuring a story that would be at the centre of more cultish, exploitative fare a couple of decades later but here is treated as a kind of morally robust film noir. Of course, it’s Hollywood morality, so while admiring the film for openly taking aim at a sickness at the heart of American culture (and risking southern box office in doing so), it also treats its subject with hypocritical delicacy, it’s the only movie about the KKK that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t feature a single African-American either in person or in theme. Still, the sight of Ginger Rogers being tied up by a grand wizard in front of a burning cross isn’t a sight you see all that often, and she gives a fully committed, blistering performance. Day as her sister is even finer, her presenting the conflict of feelings between her morals and her family results in one of her most complex and moving performances.