Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Experiment in Terror (1962) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The last several weekends have been filled with screenings in Los Angeles: first I attended a movie at the TCM Classic Film Festival, next there were three weekends at the Noir City Film Festival, and then last weekend's Mother's Day screening of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

I'm about ready to spend a weekend staying clear of the L.A. freeway system, yet I couldn't resist the lure of film noir and the fabulous series currently playing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir. Tonight's movies were EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962), a thriller with Glenn Ford and Lee Remick, followed by the noir classic CRISS CROSS (1949), starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea. (My review of CRISS CROSS is here.)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, is one of the places where I fell in love with classic films as I was growing up. I saw countless films in the Museum's Leo S. Bing Theater. I hadn't been to LACMA for a couple of years so it was great getting back there tonight. It's a terrific place to watch movies, and the prints were outstanding. The experience of seeing two great films on the big screen was well worth the investment of time and effort.

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, produced and directed by Blake Edwards, is an excellent movie: scary, stylish, and beautiful, with gorgeous widescreen black and white shots of San Francisco in the early '60s. The superb photography was by Philip A. Lathrop. The film also has a memorable, moody score by Henry Mancini; I won't be forgetting the music he wrote for the opening sequence soon.

The plot concerns bank teller Kelly Sherwood (Remick), who is terrorized by Red Lynch (Ross Martin). Lynch knows every detail of the lives of Kelly and her teenage sister Toby (Stefanie Powers), and he threatens to kill them both if Kelly doesn't steal $100,000 for him from the bank where she's employed. Lynch also makes clear that under no circumstances is Kelly to contact the police.

An attempted phone call by Kelly to the FBI is enough to cause law enforcement to start asking questions, even though her initial call is interrupted. Agent John Ripley (Ford) and his team are soon on the job. The agents carefully maneuver through the case as Ripley secretly establishes contact with Kelly and has a team watch her; simultaneously the agents work to uncover the identity of the dangerous man Kelly heard but didn't see.

This film has some very scary sequences, so it's a great relief when Agent Ripley is on the case and doesn't let go. Ford is really outstanding as the FBI man, calm and reassuring. When he's on screen the tension level lowers a notch or two because the audience believes in him and the ability of his agents.

Remick and Powers each do an excellent job conveying their terror; at the same time, they're gutsy ladies who manage to keep it together despite the stress they're under. In fact, I was a bit surprised that Kelly was able to go to sleep the first night after her experience with Lynch, even knowing the FBI is staking out her house and listening in on her phone. I would have expected her to be nonetheless terrified Lynch might manage to get back in the house. I liked that Remick plays a strong woman despite the stress to which she's subjected.

Ross Martin is incredibly creepy as the murderous criminal with a wheezy voice. Martin isn't seen until partway into the movie, only heard, and in fact the filmmakers chose not to give him an opening credit, preserving some of the mystery regarding the killer's identity. Martin received a solo credit, "Ross Martin as Red Lynch," just before "The End" flashes on to the screen.

The images of San Francisco are a treasure. I especially enjoyed the scene shot on the Wharf, near Alioto's. Kelly and Toby's house still exists, and thanks to Google Street View we know it looks very much the same today as it did a half century ago.

The climactic sequence was filmed at Candlestick Park. It was fun seeing the film with a Los Angeles crowd who immediately applauded the first closeup of Don Drysdale on the pitching mound. Vin Scully's voice is heard briefly in a room with TV monitors, ostensibly broadcasting to the folks back in L.A.

The movie runs 123 minutes. Supporting cast members included Ned Glass, Anita Loo, Patricia Huston, Al Avalon, Harvey Evans, Roy Poole, Gilbert Green, Clifton James, and William Bryant.

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR was released on DVD a few years ago; it appears it's now quite rare. It really deserves to be reissued, perhaps in a line such as Criterion. This is a film which deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience.

This movie has also been released on VHS. It can be rented for viewing on Amazon Instant Video. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Additional information on the LAMCA film noir series was recently published in the Los Angeles Times.

Highly recommended for thrills and chills.

October 2012 Update: This movie is now available in the Sony Choice DVD-R line available via the Warner Archive and Amazon.

2013 Update: It's also now out on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

November 6, 2013 Update: This review has been reposted, incorporating additional thoughts on the film and the Twilight Time Blu-ray.

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