The Phenix City Story (no, not a misspelled Phoenix in Arizona, the city of Phenix City, Alabama) is a film based on the real life story of a man who went against one of the most corrupt cities in America and, well, I won’t spoil it if you don’t know the real life tale, which may very well be likely. Directed by Phil Karlson, this is a black and white film in every single way, right down to the subject matter itself.
The film opens in a news segment style expose, conducting interviews and news pieces with citizens of the real life city, as an introduction to the setting we will soon inhabit in the actual film itself. It’s an interesting narrative device, and one I haven’t seen before, at least for the era of films. The film is the story of the titular city in the 1940s and 50s, a hotbed for the most rampant corruption, gambling, and drug related crimes in the state, maybe even the country. More specifically, the film details the story of the rise and fall (to put it mildly) of Alabama Attorney General Albert Patterson, who ran on the platform of cleaning up Phenix City, and what resulted when he ended up taking office. It is a fight between a handful of men against a slew of others, and the fight gets really nasty, to say the least. The film gets so blunt at times that it is virtually transparent; sex, drugs, and violence are tools used by the sleazy underbelly of the town so plentifully it numbs you after a while. This is truly a film that is unforgiving in its depiction of a city gone wrong, and the lengths both sides will go to to either fight it, or keep it just the way it is.
The film is otherwise unremarkable, but its content and material are so stark and bleak that the film becomes something more than it otherwise would be. Even more so that the film is based on a true story, back before those words were tossed around modern films like candy to youngsters, back when they had weight to them because they meant it. Definitely see this one if you get the chance; once you get past the modern-day veneer of the words “Based on a True Story” and realize that this really was, it becomes very cold and cruel, and very much engaging viewing.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10