Cast of The Phenix City Story
“The Phenix City Story” is a 1955 film that I happened to come across while looking for a birthday present for a classic movie lover. I found the “Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume Five” DVD that almost half of the 44 Amazon reviewers gave 5 stars. I read a couple that said they bought the disc just to watch “The Phenix City Story” and got kind of hung up on wanting to see it after reading a synopsis of the film. So I rented it for a buck and 7 days access and watched the whole film right away.
It’s a true crime story based on the 1954 murder of Albert Patterson, who was elected Attorney General of the State of Alabama and murdered shortly after the election before he could be sworn in. It’s not a whodunit. Right in the film’s intro, you are told that he was murdered by the organized crime element that ruled Phenix City because he had vowed to free the city from the ruthless criminals who controlled it. (So much for the good old days, right?)
Something I’m always fascinated by in old movies is where do I know this person from? So what we’re looking at is the cast of character actors in the film. They are the faces of actors that you may have seen in other films or on TV many times.
The film is introduced by Clete Roberts, a veteran newsman from Los Angeles, who interviews several people about the crime: Ed Strickland, a Birmingham news reporter who co-authored a book on what life was like in Phenix City; Hugh Bentley, Hugh Britton and Quinnie Kelly, 3 men who played various roles in fighting back against the mob. Finally, he interviewed Albert Patterson’s widow.
John McIntire played Albert Patterson. He looked a lot like the real Albert Patterson. I mainly remember McIntire from the TV series “Wagon Train” but, turns out, he was in a bunch of movies I’ve seen, such as “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), “The President’s Lady” (1953), Elmer Gantry (1960) and Psycho (1960). He was also in 2 episodes of “Bonanza” I’ve seen: Old Charlie (1966) and The Bride (1960).
Richard Kiley played Albert’s son, John Patterson, an Army major at the time just returned from Germany. This film was made the year after the crime so they got as far as John Patterson taking over as attorney general in his father’s place. He also went on to become the State Governor from 1959 to 1963. Kiley is likely the most recognizable actor in “The Phenix City Story.” Who hasn’t seen him in something? In the ’90s, he was “in Patch Adams.” In the ’80s, he played Meggie’s father, Paddy Cleary, in “The Thorn Birds,” one of the roles he got an Emmy and a Golden Globe for. He was in “Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), and was the title character in the 1970 “Bonanza” episode “Gideon the Good.” In the ’50s and ’60s, he had a role in just about every popular TV series, some recurring. On the stage, he won 2 Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical for “Redhead” in 1959, and for “Man of La Mancha” in 1966.
Edward Andrews played Rhett Tanner, the top local guy in the gambling and other vices. He had a jovial and charming demeanor, most of the time except when he felt threatened. He had a bunch of local informers and enforcers to help him stay on top of things. Andrews’ first TV role was in 1950 in a TV series called “Mama.” His last role was in the popular film “Gremlins,” that came out in 1984, the year before he passed away. In between, Andrews racked up 180 more credits in many popular TV series and TV films. Two of them were “Bonanza” episodes that you know I have seen. Like John McIntire, he was in “Elmer Gantry” (1960).
John Larch played Clem Wilson, Rhett Tanner’s top enforcer. A highly versatile character actor, Larch was equally adept at playing tough characters who were good. He started out in the early ’50s and was a natural for the law enforcement series like “Dragnet” and later the popular westerns like “Bat Masterson,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “The Rifleman” and, yep, “Bonanza.” Among his 170 credits: playing the chief of police to Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry (1971).” He was also in “Play Misty for Me” (also ’71) as Sgt. McCallum. He played a priest in “The Amityville Horror” (1979) and had recurring roles on 2 ’80s nighttime soaps, “Dallas” and “Dynasty.”
Kathryn Grant played Ellie Rhodes. She worked at the casino to help support her family but later turned spy for the good guys. After a couple of years of getting uncredited parts, this was her second credit in 1955. Grant appeared in 1957’s “Mister Cory,” starring Tony Curtis. That same year, she married crooner Bing Crosby and her acting career began to taper off. She was Princess Parisa in 1958’s “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and Mary Pilant in “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959). Kathryn Crosby is the mother of Mary Crosby, the actress “who shot J.R.”
Biff McGuire played Fred Gage, a law school student, who wants to marry Ellie and doesn’t want her to work for Tanner. McGuire began his career in 1950 and had about 10 credits before he got this role. He turned up thereafter in many popular series and some soap operas. He had a role in “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968) and “Serpico” (1973). The only western listed in his IMDB credits is a 1974 episode of “Gunsmoke” in which he played an unlikely villain.
Some elements of the story were dramatized for “The Phenix City Story,” but because the film is worth watching for film noir and/or history buffs, we’ll leave it up to you on whether you want to look the movie up and watch it, or just research it online. John Patterson, who is now 95 years old, spoke to the Washington Times about the case in 2004.