Experiment in Terror (1962): Blake Edwards Exquisite Noir Thriller, Starring Glenn Ford and Lee Remick

After several comedies and dramas, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,“ Blake Edwards established himself as a major dramatic director in 1962 with two movies: “Days of Wine and Roses,” a devastatingly realistic portrait of alcoholism, and the stylish, exquisitely shot noir thriller, “Experiment in Terror.”

Our grade: A- (**** out of *****)

In the same year, another great noir was made about a family under attack, “Cape Fear,” by John Frankenheimer, who, like Edwards, scored another triumph that year with the seminal “The Manchurian Candidate.”

It may or may not be a coincidence that both films star the beautiful Lee Remick. (See below).  Remick plays Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who’s stalked by a psycho named Red Lynch (Ross Martin from “Wild Wild West”) who demands that she embezzle money. To make sure that she follows his orders, Lynch kidnaps Remick’s teenage sister Toby (played by the young Stefanie Powers).

In a role that suits him like a glove, Glenn Ford plays F.B.I. agent John Ripley, who handles the case, by posting guards around Kelly and Toby and informing the bank’s president.

The F.B.I. discovers the extortionist’s identity through the clue of his suffering from asthma, and also with the help of informants (some of whom are later murdered). 

The suspense builds up gradually, when Toby is kidnapped and the F.B.I. instructs Kelly to steal the money and take it to Candlestick Park during a well-attended game.

Martin is killed in a shoot-out as he attempts to escape, in a bravura sequence, mostly shot in long takes that places (and dwarfs) the humans against the huge site, which under orders from policy had been emptied.

Defying formulas and generic expectations, Edwards, working from a script by Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon, based on their novel “Operation Terror,” shapes his stylish suspenser as a narrative that switches back and forth between the victim, the psychotic criminal, and the F.B.I agent.

Edwards coaxes great performances from vet actor Glenn Ford (who does expertly a variation of the roles he had played for Fritz Lang in the 1950s, including “The Big Heat”), Lee Remick (who received her first and only Oscar nomination that year for Edwards’ other drama, “The Days of Wine and Roses”), Martin who’s scary with his leering menace, and Powers who impresses with her vulnerability.

For “Experiment in Terror,” Edwards utilized the stylish black-and-white cinematography he had used effectively in the 1950s TV series “Peter Gunn.”  

Shot on locations in San Francisco, Philip Lathrop’s piercing camera makes the city scary and ominous on the big screen.

The taut, beautifully directed film is suspense fully gripping from first frame to last. The first scene is particularly impressive, showing Remick’s Kelly in close ups (and mega close-ups), as she’s being menaced by the criminal, whose face remains in the dark.

The movie contains many creepy and chilling scenes, such as the one that depicts the criminal-artisan making mannequins.

The last scene, the showdown at Candlestick Park, with masses of people in attendance, is particularly striking, and so is the one set at the Oakland Bay Bridge.

Effectively manipulating the realistic sound, the film features a jazzy score by Henry Mancini, whose slow autoharp often echoes the sounds of the villain’s voice.

In 1964, Mancini would become internationally famous for scoring Edwards’ popular film series, the slapstick comedy “The Pink Panther,” starring Peter Sellers.

Credits:

The film was released on April 11, 1962

Running time: 123 Minutes

Music: Henry Mancini

Camera: Philip H. Lathrop

Cast
Glenn Ford as John “Rip” Ripley
Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood
Stefanie Powers as Toby Sherwood
Ross Martin as Garland Humphrey “Red” Lynch
Roy Poole as Brad
Ned Glass as Popcorn
Anita Loo as Lisa Soong
Patricia Huston as Nancy Ashton
Gilbert Green as Special agent
Clifton James as Capt. Moreno
Al Avalon as Man who picks up Kelly
William Bryant as Chuck