Saturday 11 May 2019

Movie Review: Experiment In Terror (1962)

A muddled crime thriller, Experiment In Terror offers dashes of style but suffers from a flabby script and an unconvincing plot.

In the Twin Peaks neighbourhood of San Francisco, bank teller Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is threatened in her dark garage by an unseen intruder. He demands she steal $100,000 from the bank, otherwise he will hurt her younger sister Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite the intruder insisting on no police involvement, Kelly connects with the FBI's John Ripley (Glenn Ford).

With few clues to go on, Ripley places Kelly under surveillance. Meanwhile, he is also contacted by Nancy Ashton (Patricia Huston), a troubled woman who may be going through a similar experience to Kelly. Ripley's investigation also leads him to Lisa Soong (Anita Loo), the mother of a sick child who may also be connected to the criminal. As the clock ticks down and the threats intensify, Kelly has to commit the theft or face the consequences.

A rare departure towards darker material for director Blake Edwards, Experiment In Terror lathers on the noir style with odd camera angles, nighttime scenes, characters hiding in shadows, plenty of fog and stark light sources. But the credible production design cannot hide a wayward plot filled with weird distractions and plenty of loose ends.

After the opening attack Kelly is unfortunately reduced to an afterthought in her own story, and the film defaults to an uninteresting police procedural. And for a seemingly well-resourced detective provided with plenty of advance notice about a crime in the making, Ripley manages to repeatedly botch the basics. Equally improbable is a convenient criminal who always does just enough to move the plot along but never enough to push through with his threats.

The problems reside in the overburdened script by the husband and wife crime writing team of Gordon and Mildred Gordon, and a saggy running time extending to over two hours. The characters of Nancy Ashton, Lisa Soong and her suffering son occupy large swaths of screen time to no great effect, their connection to the central crime barely sketched in. Meanwhile the details related to the villain's plot to steal and keep the money are all but omitted. Finally young sister Toby is placed in proper peril, but when the opportunity arises the film appears caught flat footed between seeking terror and settling for timid.

Lee Remick, Glenn Ford and a young Stefanie Powers provide plenty of star appeal, but despite the flashy execution this Experiment In Terror is flawed.

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