Judge Dylan Charles wishes his small town would do something about the living statue.
In Pearl Harbor, no one saw it coming. In Florida City, one man did.
Small Town Conspiracy is about a murder that possibly ties itself to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It could potentially be a fascinating story of intrigue, mysterious G-men running around, government plots and the brave little men standing in the way of monstrous intelligence agencies. Or a watered down flick starring Zen Gesner. One or the other.
Facts of the Case
John Haleran (Zen Gesner, The Adventures of Sinbad) is the police chief of Florida City. Haleran enjoys several nips from the bottle while on the job. And then several more after work. Maybe a few more before bed too. And after he wakes up, he'll need some Jack Daniels to take the edge off of that nasty hangover.
Point is, he drinks.
On Dec. 1, 1941 some trappers find the body of a young Japanese woman in the nearby swamp. Haleran takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of things against the advice of the former police chief Bo Taylor (William Morgan Sheppard, The Prestige). Haleran is soon running through swamps, breaking into army bases and drinking heavily in an attempt to find the murderer. Haleran finds that there's more than meets the eye and will spend an hour and a half unraveling a mystery that the audience has figured out in the first 20 minutes.
Here's a movie that fumbles the ball every time it tries to do something even remotely interesting. Haleran could be a compelling character. He drinks a lot; he's awful at his job. There's room for personal growth here. Instead we get five seconds of back story (he failed as a harmonica player in Nashville) and see him throwing his bourbon bottle into the woods. So much for his alcoholism!
And Haleran is the only decent character in Small Town Conspiracy because he's the only one who's not a complete cliché. Every other character is just a one dimensional prop to populate some screenwriter's paranoid fantasy about what happened in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor. We have the barmaid, the trampy daughter, the grumpy ex-cop, the megalomaniacal villain.
Sheppard, as the grumpy ex-cop, does well with what he's given. He's likable and all. But that doesn't change the fact that there's nothing really in the script to build on. Jeanetta Arnette is the only other stand-out in the cast as Haleran's special lady friend, although she spends most of the time telling Haleran to stop drinking. It just all goes down hill from there. James Bates Jr., as Captain Reed, goes on a scenery chewing binge at the end.
In fact, the whole last third of the movie takes on an air of melodrama. What started out as a fairly tight focus on Haleran and his attempts on trying to solve a murder rapidly swells into a country-wide conspiracy. When Captain Reed starts in on his whole spiel about changing the course of history, the melodrama builds to a swell, a grandiose explosion of hamming it up.
And then there's the soundtrack. Most of the time it's the long drawl of a harmonica, letting us know that, yes, we are in the South. But then, every now and then, this score crops up that would be better suited to a low budget horror flick. It feels completely out of place and is usually there to heighten tension that doesn't exist.
Now, Small Town Conspiracy is supposedly based on true events, but I've found nothing to verify this. Every search for John Haleran (who is given a dedication at the end of the film) leads back to reviews of this movie. I've looked up the telegram supposedly sent by the Haleran character. Also no luck finding that. So the movie is a damn liar on top of everything else.
Small Town Conspiracy has the feel of something made for television. It's full screen and the video quality is only average. The sound isn't exactly top notch either, with the sound seeming to fade at times.
If not for one or two moments of extreme overacting and the addition of a conspiracy plot whose structural integrity is under suspicion, Small Town Conspiracy would be a mediocre character study centered around a murder mystery. As it is, it's just got nothing to recommend it.
Small Town Conspiracy is guilty of hitting the bottle too hard.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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