What Vince doesn't know, since he can't open the canister, is that it isn't heroin but Cobalt-60 inside. Having removed the metal cylinder from its lead casing, he's exposing himself and everyone he encounters to dangerous levels of radiation. Allowed to run loose, he could contaminate the entire city of Los Angeles. A police investigation team equipped with Geiger counters sweeps the streets in search of the fugitive, but keeps its work under wraps in order to prevent a panic. The problem with that approach is that they can't make clear to Vince's uncooperative criminal cronies the danger they're in if they deal with him. His moll is already contaminated but won't rat him out. A suspicious shoe salesman assumes that Vince is carrying heroin and looks for ways to get the drugs while getting rid of Vince. Another sleazeball interrogated by the cops assumes that Vince has something important and decides to horn in on his deal with the shoe dealer. Vince himself is paranoid enough as a fugitive, and the radiation poisoning isn't helping matters. On top of that, he has to worry about his cronies double crossing him and taking his precious cylinder. They all behave exactly as you would expect, and because they all want a part of the score no one who knows Vince is going to tell the cops, who face a countdown before the mayor goes public with the threat. A handful of pathetic people are playing their usual petty game for higher stakes than any can imagine....
Vince isn't entirely paranoid. Lots of people are out to get him (above). Below, his moll (Patricia Blair) faces the music from a Geiger counter.
Director Lerner helps him along with nicely edited sequences illustrating Vince's suspicions as he scans the streets for enemies or flees from imagined watchers. Lerner even jump cuts within shots in an almost avant-garde way to highlight Vince's fragmented, brittle perceptions. The director also makes excellent use of urban locations and hand-held cameras while also getting maximum noir value from cinematographer Lucien Ballard whenever night or shadows fall. Icing on the cake is a young Jerry Goldsmith's bombastic modernist score -- one of his first for a feature film. It sounds like exactly the sort of soundtrack one of my late noirs should have.
Lucien Ballard's cinematography gives City of Fear instant noir cred. Below, production design underlines Vince's paranoia (check out the eye on that sign).