Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Running Time: 123 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn't resist giving it a try.
Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey 'Red' Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn't, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John 'Rip' Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.
That's pretty much all I can say about the plot. It's a fairly straight forward, no-nonsense thriller, but it's still a damned good one. There's no messing about straight from the offset, in an opening scene (after a moody drive through San Francisco under the credits) when Kelly is grabbed in her unlit garage and Red sets up the film's premise. This sequence instantly grabs you with its menacing intensity and is miles away from the sort of farcical comedy I'm used to seeing Edwards direct.
One of the key driving forces of this terrifically dark atmosphere is the sumptuous black and white cinematography from Philip H. Lathrop. The film was produced past noir's prime and before neo-noir really hit full speed, but this is one of the nicest looking examples of that genre's style of lighting. Thick black shadows dominate most scenes whenever the sun goes down and good use is also made of vast open spaces in the day time. Also present, adding class to proceedings, are some graceful and well orchestrated camera and crane moves. Henry Mancini's cool and moody score is worth mentioning too.
There are also some great set-pieces. On top of the attention-grabbing opening, there's a fantastic scene of tension in a mannequin designer's studio, utilising the dead looking figures very effectively as in Killer's Kiss and Maniac. A dolly shot that reveals one of the mannequins to actually be Red is chillingly realised. The baseball match finale is stylish and exciting too, ending with a dramatic wide shot reminiscent of Dirty Harry.
Twists are kept to a minimum, although there's an interesting addition of a mother and son that have an unusual connection to Red, which keeps things from getting stale. The narrative simplicity doesn't mean it's a short film though. Edwards likes to take his time with scenes, which keeps the running time fairly lengthy, but doesn't cause the film to feel too slow. Instead it helps draw out the tension, making for a gripping experience.
It's maybe a little too straight forward by today's standards, particularly in the solving of the case. Modern thrillers would likely throw in a few more twists and turns, but the story is still involving enough. It's a strong thriller that's quite dark for the era and exciting. Well executed and stylish, it's a solidly made piece of work. It's a shame Edwards didn't direct any more thrillers.
Experiment in Terror is being re-released on 24th April by Powerhouse Films on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD as part of their new Indicator label in the UK. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the picture and sound quality are both excellent.
Powerhouse have also included plenty of special features with the set. These include:
- Audio commentary by film critic Kim Morgan
- All By Herself: Stefanie Powers on 'Experiment in Terror' (2017, 19 mins): new and exclusive filmed interview with the actress
- Isolated score: experience Henry Mancini's original score
- Theatrical trailers
- TV spots
- Limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet with a new essay by film critic Kim Morgan, and a new examination of the secret FBI files dedicated to screenwriters The Gordons by Jeff Billington
Powers is perhaps not the obvious choice of interviewee as her part isn't that big in the film, but the rest of the principle cast and crew are dead, so you can't blame Powerhouse for not speaking to anyone else. The interview is nevertheless a worthy addition, although it's not as essential as the commentary, which is top notch. Solo commentaries can be a bit dull or filled with quiet patches, but Morgan does a great job of offering up production facts and interesting insights into the film. The booklet is excellent as always too.