Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Movie Review: Cry Terror! (1958)


A ransom and hostage drama, Cry Terror! has a good cast and a smattering of good ideas, but also distracted focus.

After an airline receives multiple anonymous bomb threats, electronics and detonations expert Jim Molner (James Mason) realizes he was duped into building miniature bombs by ex-army buddy Paul Hoplin (Rod Steiger). Now Hoplin demands a $500,000 ransom from the airline and holds Jim's family hostage, including wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and young daughter Patty.

Paul's gang includes Eileen Kelly (Angie Dickinson), the high-strung Vince (Jack Klugman) and the unstable ex-con Steve (Neville Brand). With the FBI desperately searching for the perpetrators, Joan is dispatched to collect the ransom money, with any wrong move resulting in harm to the family.

Written, produced and directed by Andrew L. Stone with big assists from his wife and editor Virginia, Cry Terror! is filled with intrigue and promise. Stone predicts the coming age of terrorism targeting airlines with difficult-to-find small bombs, built using military-grade explosives and smuggled into either the passenger or luggage compartments. The film starts with the threat of big bangs and mass casualties, only avoided because smooth criminal Paul is less interested in murder and more focused on demanding the coveted half a million dollars.

Unafraid to experiment, Cry Terror! features alternating narration, Joan and Jim taking turns describing their thoughts and emotions as they maneuver through the hostage experience. With Inger Stevens delivering the film's standout performance, Joan stars in the highlight sequence, a stressful time-limited courier ordeal where being late means harm to Jim and Patty. Later, a more disinterested James Mason gets to describe his attempted escape through an elevator shaft, an altogether less logical chapter.

The film's second half goes searching for tense Hitchcockian moments with varying success but at the expense of rational plotting. The supposed evil genius of mastermind Paul Hoplin (with Rod Steiger menacing but restrained) is parked as the script just pauses his plan and waits for Joan, Jim and the FBI to make their moves. Stone is engrossed in the minutiae of specific actions, while the big picture gets quite blurry.

But crisp black and white cinematography, interesting camera placements, extreme close-ups and a variety of sets help overcome the rough moments. Cry Terror! never quite soars, but it does barrel down the runway with engines revving.






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