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January 11, 2011

Movie Review: Experiment in Terror (1962)

1962 - dir by Blake Edwards
Starring Lee Remick, Stephanie Powers, and Glenn Ford

The opening of this film is incredibly reminiscent of Hitchcock, with its lush black and white photography of a woman, Kelly Sherwood, played by Lee Remick, driving alone on the highway, top down, scarf blowing in the breeze. The score by Henry Mancini that plays over the title sequence felt like the opening music from Twin Peaks, and indeed, Remick lives in a section of San Francisco actually named Twin Peaks.

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Remick drives into her garage, and the film takes a bit of a turn into a giallo as a heavy-breathing Black Gloved Killer attacks Remick and threatens her, telling her he's killed before and he will again if she crosses him. He tells her he knows all about her and he'll be back in touch when he needs her to help him rob the bank she works at. Then he backs out of the garage, still in shadow, and leaves.

When Remick tries to call the FBI, the killer, who had apparently been hiding in her home after he left the garage, knocks the phone out of her hand, tells her he knew she was going to do that, and then leaves again. Agent Ripley, played by Glenn Ford, tracks her down and calls her back, leading to a tense scene where Remick is forced to pretend it's someone else on the phone while Ford tries to figure out what questions to ask and what the answers mean. They manage to figure out where she works, and Ripley tells her he'll see her there the next day.

True to his word, he shows up and they have a discussion, along with the bank manager, about the killer and the impending robbery. Somehow, the killer finds out and threatens Remick's little sister, played by a very young Stephanie Powers, even going so far as to leave a note in Power's robe at a public swimming pool.

Meanwhile, another woman shows up at Ripley's office to discuss a "friend" of hers who may have done something wrong at the behest of a boyfriend, but under duress. Ripley tells her that if her "friend" committed a crime she would go to jail. The woman takes his card and leaves. A short time later she calls back and sets up a time to meet with Ripley an hour later at her home. She warns him she has a strange job, which, it turns out, is repairing mannequins. When Ripley gets to her home, he finds he is too late, as she is hanging nude and upside-down amidst the mannequins. At this point, Ripley starts to take the threats against Remick much more seriously.

This is also the point at which the film changes from being a creepy noir classic into a formulaic-but-still-decent police procedural. Prior to this scene, the film was dark and moody and mysterious. After this scene the noir elements just fell away, we see the killer as a weak asthmatic, and Ripley takes a more central role.

At any rate, Power's is kidnapped, Remick is told to steal $100,000 and bring it to Candlestick Park during a game, Ripley rescues the little sister, and they catch the bad guy in a scene that reminds one of Dirty Harry a decade later. The end.

The first thing to know is that there is no experiment in this film, although I guess the villain does terrorize Remick and Powers at various times. The title is just salacious enough to draw a crowd, but by the time you realize it's not happening you figure you might as well just watch till the end.

Many of the scenes just seem designed to show off the San Francisco landscape, which I always enjoy seeing. Some of my favorite films have been set in SF, the aforementioned Dirty Harry, Bullitt, and many many more. That's always worth at least a star in my book.

One more interesting thing about this film is that the name of the villain isn't on-screen until the end of the film, right before the words "The End". He's got the only credit at the end; everyone else is credited at the beginning of the film. His name is Ross Martin, and the character's name is Red Lynch.

I can't honestly recommend this film to noir fans, to giallo fans, to police procedural fans, nor to Blake Edwards (RIP) fans. I'm not entirely sure who this film was meant for as it changes tone pretty abruptly and doesn't really follow through on any of the elements present. It's not a bad film, it's just wildly uneven. I guess I can recommend it to fans of cinematic oddities, but that's about it.

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