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Experiment in Terror
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
You might remember Blake Edwards as the man behind such films as The Pink Panther, 10, and Victor/Victoria. A couple of years before Edwards found his comedy niche in The Pink Panther, he came up with the reasonably effective and creepy black-and-white noir thriller Experiment in Terror.
Lee Remick stars as bank teller Kelly Sherwood, a lovely young San Francisco woman who has inexplicably found herself the target of an asthmatic psycho (Ross Martin). He demands that she steal $100,000 from her bank—or her life and the life of her pretty little sister Toby (Stefanie Powers) are in danger. He warns her not to go to the authorities, but of course she does just that, ringing FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford) moments after her encounter. After her assailant gives her one more brutal warning, Experiment in Terror becomes a suitably suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between a careful FBI office, a clever madman, and a couple of California hotties in peril.
I was impressed by this film's duality. On one hand, it's a somewhat sleazy and exploitative mystery about nubile young women as prey. Remick and Powers are both gorgeous, and they both seem to have fun with their roles as damsels in distress. But on the other hand, these women aren't helpless screamers in the face of slimy, violent men. The women characters are gutsy and smart, particularly in Kelly's case. An early phone conversation between Kelly and Ripley sets the stage for an uncommon degree of woman's empowerment (in a film such as this). And Toby's fleet-footed determination to help her sister in a moment of need provides for fantastic energy.
The film isn't perfect. At over 2 hours, it could have used some tightening up. Some scenes seem extraneous, and others seem to wear out their welcome. But I was pleasantly surprised by how compelling Experiment in Terror is. Blake's direction—except for the aforementioned bloat—is assured and stylized. Philip Lathrop's high-contrast black-and-white photography gorgeously conveys the appropriate noir mood. And Henry Mancini's jazzy score is a fine accompaniment to the imagery.
Performances are top-notch throughout. I was truly impressed by Remick, who effortlessly communicates great internal struggle through facial expressions. Ford is characteristically stone-faced and calm as Ripley. Watching Powers (Hart to Hart) as a teenager was a lot of fun, and she portrays just the right combination of carefree youthfulness and uncomprehending fear. Finally, Martin (Wild Wild West) is a terrific dark presence, oozing sordidness and menace.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia/TriStar presents Experiment in Terror in a starkly beautiful anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. The black-and-white photography fares very well, with terrific detail and sharpness. Black levels are deep. The high-contrast look could have posed a problem in the transfer process, I'm sure, but the result avoids harshness and instead feels like an accurate representation of the cinematographer's intentions. The print is a bit dirty and grainy, and flickers from time to time, but that's to be expected of a 40-year-old film. These small imperfections were almost welcome. I noticed no edge halos.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's mono soundtrack is perfectly respectable. Dialog is clear and accurate, and I noticed no distortion. Mancini's score has a remarkable presence. The quality of this track was quite pleasing.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Unfortunately, the disc offers only three trailers—for Experiment in Terror, The Big Heat (also starring Glenn Ford), and The Lady from Shanghai.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Experiment in Terror is a cool, forgotten piece of noir cinema that's worth a viewing. The image and sound are above average, but the supplements leave something to be desired. Still, this is well worth your time.