Experiment in Terror (1962)

“I know a good deal about you — almost everything there is to know.”

Experiment in Terror Poster

Synopsis:
A mysterious asthmatic psychopath (Ross Martin) threatens to kill a bank teller (Lee Remick) and her sister (Stefanie Powers) if Remick doesn’t steal $100,000 for him — but Remick manages to call an FBI agent (Glenn Ford) whose team keeps a close eye on her safety.

Genres:

Review:
Blake Edwards’ follow-up to Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) was this atmospheric “female in distress” thriller set in the hills, teeming streets, and landmarks of San Francisco. The opening moments are especially tense, as Remick is terrorized in the shadows of her garage by an unseen man (Martin) who spares no details in sharing what will happen to her and her sister if she doesn’t cooperate with his plans. Unfortunately, the rest of the screenplay fails to maintain this initial tension: Remick makes a phone call to the FBI (how does she get ahold of them so easily?), is threatened once again by Martin for doing so, then goes about her daily life, concerned for her safety but otherwise “free”. While Martin is clearly keeping a close eye on both Remick and Powers — even murdering a mannequin-designer (Patricia Huston) in her highly stylized apartment as a warning — the threat still feels diffuse.

Part of the problem is pacing: at over two hours long, there’s simply too much footage here, and too much time lapsing between and during scenes. Meanwhile, the inclusion of a sub-plot about Martin’s Asian-American lover (Lisa Soong) and her disabled son (Warren Hsieh) doesn’t do anything but confuse our understanding of Martin’s character and motivations (are we meant to sympathize with him after learning he’s been helping Soong with Hsieh’s expenses?). The climactic scene during a baseball game in Candlestick Park is nicely shot, but ultimately more atmospheric than truly suspenseful, given how many FBI men are literally swarming the joint. The film’s title is apt: this represents Edwards’ cinematic “experiment in terror”, one that’s nicely mounted but not entirely successful. Best/creepiest scene: Martin accosts Remick in a hallway, dressed as an old bespectacled woman in a hooded cape.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood
    Experiment in Terror Remick
  • Fine use of location shooting
    Experiment in Terror Location
    Experiment in Terror Location3
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Experiment in Terror Cinematography
  • Henry Mancini’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look by those interested in the genre. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Experiment in Terror (1962)”

  1. Not must-see. You can actually skip it.

    I had heard about this movie for *years*…how it was considered to be among Edwards’ best work.

    I had a lot of difficulty tracking it down, it just remained elusive.

    When it was finally recorded for me off of TCM, I was wrapped in anticipation. And, indeed, the film’s opening held promise, as the titles draped Lee Remick driving along in her car, accompanied by Henry Mancini’s appropriately atmospheric score.

    And the first actual scene – where Remick is accosted in her garage was tense.

    Imagine my shock when things plummeted from there and the film became a real snooze from then on.

    There is so much that’s wrong with this movie. And, for a thriller, it’s just about thrill-less. Agreed – there is no real pacing here, things just plod along.

    Observing him at his job, one begins to wonder: Why does it seem like Ford has absolutely nothing else to do at work – and in that huge city – but take care of Lee Remick? Was that the description when he interviewed for the job?: “Your duties will entail protecting Lee Remick and only Lee Remick.”

    I was bouncing between boredom and disappointment at just about every turn. *This* was the unsung flick held in such high esteem by various critics?!!

    By the time it came for Ross Martin to surprise Remick in the ladies’ room, she wasn’t the only one who got the surprise. I was so aghast by Martin’s sudden (and nonsensical) appearance in drag that I actually laughed out loud! …So much for nail-biting suspense.

    What a dopey movie. LOL

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