First off, I give the warning that this is not the recently-made Australian horror film with the same name. This picture however is one of the most impressive treasures that I have been able to discover, thanks to my purchase of the Ronald Reagan box set. The story deals with a young model named Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers), who has come to a town in the South in order to visit her sister, Lucy (Doris Day). Not long after she arrives, however, she’s met with hostility from the people in the town, who don’t like interacting with strangers. Things turn for the worse when she is witness to a murder committed by the Ku Klux Klan, and she is even able to see the murderer’s faces! Too bad she did, as she discovers that her sister is not only married to one of these killers, but the one who pulled the trigger! Prosecutor Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan) wants her to testify, but she’s not just worried about her sister’s love, but for the fact that her life is in danger if she tells the truth. After all, nobody wants the wrath of the Klan on their backs, or a bullet in the head.
I honestly felt I was going to see something that would be kind of funny. After all, the thought of seeing Ronald Reagan fighting Klansmen, with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day (better known for happy musicals) didn’t make me think I was going to see something dark and gritty. But dark and gritty is exactly what I got, as this is one helluva balls-to-the-wall film noir that ranks up there with the darkest of the dark ala T-Men or The Naked City. The photography is very stark black and white, showing the dark undercurrent behind the town and their Klan-run motives. This is a place where good is only a mask, and conspiracy and crime lay underneath. The performances here are incredible as well. I’m not a fan of Reagan as a president, but I definitely am as an actor, and this one he holds his own, playing one hell of a bad-ass prosecutor who has nothing but hate and disdain for the Klan. I mean this guy has balls of steel. In the third act’s Klan rally, the place full of the KKK, he walks up to the Imperial Wizard and tells him “Don’t pull those Halloween tricks on me!” Think about that for a second. This guy is so badass he should have been called Prosecutor Balls.
I was also surprised at the two leading ladies, Ginger Rogers and Doris Day. Now don’t get me wrong, I love these two women and I know they had more than enough talent to play dramatic roles, but I still find it hard that there was no music or dancing. I mean, even in Hitchcock’s Man Who Knew Too Much, Doris sings! But no, they play it straight, and they are great. Rogers is especially great as her tough but frightened character, and she is able to pull it off without being too much of a victim, just very realistic.
There is one mayor fault in this film however, and it has to be addressed, and that’s the portrayal of the Klan. Yes, they are evil motherfuckers, completely unsympathetic, cowardly and full of shit, just like in real life. But they are portrayed more like an Italian mob, in that they launder money and evade taxes, and kill those who are going to squeal. Nowhere in the film do they mention their fraternity lifestyle, and worst of all, there is no mention of any racism or hate crimes. In fact, there are no black men in the entire film. I wonder why they didn’t do this? I know blacks were still in the shit when it came to Hollywood, but it just doesn’t make sense. If they had been truthful to the material, and had them kill a black man instead of a white journalist, the movie would have had much more of an effect and, I believe, more staying power. This might be the reason why this movie is so obscure, even with the cast and near-perfect direction. But even with this blatant fault, this is an excellent film, superbly acted and directed. One of the best film noirs, and one of the most underrated.