Producedby the legendary low-budget showman Sam Katzman and directed by Fred F. Sears (Teen-Age Crime Wave, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and Rock Around the Clock) for Columbia, Miami Exposé is a middling entry into the cycle of urban crime films that teased stories of corruption and reform and the possibility that 1950s conformity could serve as a happy ending. It’s actually Sears and Katzman’s second Miami crime exposé, following 1954’s The Miami Story (which should indicate how disposable these films were).
Like many films from the urban confidential cycle, the film is marked by its clashing styles of film-making and subject-matter. Smaller films of the 1950s are notable for the odd mesh of talent at very different levels of changing media landscape. Katzman and Sears were veterans of the industry. It was also actor Edward Arnold’s last film. Meanwhile, character actor Alan Napier would soon enjoy fame as Alfred on TV’s Batman, and Lee J. Cobb was midway through an impressive run of melodramas including On the Waterfront and 12 Angry Men.
Ostensibly about the international drug trade, this hard-boiler’s climax descent into the matinee melodrama of silent serials with a raid a swamp shack for a shootout with baddies who are threatening a woman and child feels both old fashioned and of-the-moment the way key transitional texts often do.
More interestingly, it is one of several of these reform films (The Phenix City Story, The Houston Story) that is set in Southern cities during the dawn of the modern civil rights movement—although there’s very little on screen to remind you of this or the segregation that still characterized Miami at the time. Nevertheless, made on the cheap and dividing its attention between Miami and a pre-Castro Havana, Miami Expose is a fine artifact of its time.
Caught between South America, the Caribbean and Deep South Florida, Miami defies easy categorization. In Miami Exposé, this dissonance is purely threatening through violence and the suggestion of drugs and prostitution. The film reminds us that Miami was once the cultural capital of vice and civic corruption in the national popular imagination—occupying the same cultural space that Las Vegas would by the 1970s (see Kliph Nesterof’s excellent commentary about Miami and the Mob).
Despite Miami Exposé's efforts, with its on-screen endorsement of the city’s mayor Randy Christmas, Miami’s criminal enterprise persevered.
"Miami in the sixties was very much like Casablanca in the forties—a city full of stateless men and women, soldiers of fortune, spies and secret agents, con men of all persuasions,and even a few patriots.”
~> Hank Messick, Of Grass and Snow: The Secret Criminal Elite (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1979), 51-52.
Randy Christmas, Mayor of Miami from 1955 to 1957, as he appears in Miami Exposé to assure audiences that everything is all better now.
Curiously, only a year after Miami Exposé, the city would become home to the television milestone as WTVJ became the first television station to launch a daily editorial in the style of print journalism. The topic? Crime and corruption, of course. It’s Miami. Initially, television news—a sponsorship-driven medium fearful of ruffling civic feathers—avoided the importing the commentary and crusades of the newspaper business to television. So in a sense, Bill O’Reilly owes the criminal corruption of Miami a debt of gratitude.
For more on that…
Ashdown, Paul G. “WTVJ’s Miami Crime War: A Television Crusade.” Florida Historical Quarterly 58.4 (Apr., 1980): 427-437.
As recently as 1983, I have heard that Miami has”best dope in the world and its free.”
Miami by Randy Newman, 1983