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Experiment in Terror(1962)
A woman is terrorized by a man with an asthmatic voice who plans to use her to steal $100,000 from the bank where she works.
For more about Experiment in Terror and the Experiment in Terror Blu-ray release, see Experiment in Terror Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 9, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers, Ned Glass, Clifton James, Dick Crockett
Director: Blake Edwards
» See full cast & crew
Experiment in Terror Blu-ray Review
You really should have that asthma looked at by a doctor.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 9, 2013
It's funny how sometimes completely tangential information can color an initial film experience. When I was a kid The Wild, Wild West used to be broadcast in reruns on weekday afternoons right after I got home from school, and it became a real favorite of mine when I was a young boy. While I probably had childlike fantasies of being James West, I also thought that West's cohort Artemis Gordon was incredibly cool, especially with his remarkable ability to adopt so many remarkable disguises. West may have been the brawn, but Gordon was often the brains of the duo and while Robert Conrad was the matinee idol star with the incredible good looks and charisma, Ross Martin somehow embodied a lot of the soul of the series. It was in fact seeing Ross Martin's name among the credits in a long ago TV Guide listing for Experiment in Terror that first led me to watch the film when I was probably still at about the same age as I was when I was catching those old Wild, Wild West reruns after school. I in my young naïvete assumed that Ross Martin would obviously be a good guy, and I was stunned to discover as the film unfolded that not only was Martin portraying a character who not a good guy, the character was actually a pretty revolting creep, one whose asthmatic wheeze becomes one of the most unlikely frightening sound effects in any thriller. My first experience with Experiment in Terror, then, was inordinately colored by the realization that actors were not their roles, that just because Ross Martin was a brainy hero in a beloved television series, that didn't mean he couldn't be a repulsive maniac in another film. The fact that Martin is so convincing in such widely disparate parts is testament to a sadly under-remembered actor whose body of work was incredibly varied.
Blake Edwards may forever be associated with his comedic oeuvre, notably his many Pink Panther films, but at least early in his career he explored more dramatic scenarios, including a trio of early sixties films that remain at the top of his output. Breakfast at Tiffany's, Days of Wine and Roses and Experiment in Terror are all completely different films in tone, style and substance, but they all also show what an impeccable craftsman Edwards almost always was. If Experiment in Terror is the least of this early trifecta of dramatic high points, it still has a lot to recommend it, even beyond the disturbing wheezing of Ross Martin.
Edwards wastes no time in setting up the central conflict of Experiment in Terror. Beautiful young bank teller Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) drives to her San Francisco home in her sporty Ford Fairlane convertible after work, taking in the lovely sights of the City by the Bay. When she arrives in her garage, she's perturbed by a neighbor's barking dog, but she's then even more concerned when her garage door seems to close all by itself. Almost immediately she hears a strange wheezing noise and with a second or two she's confronted by a maniac who covers her mouth with his gloved hand and tells her in no uncertain terms that he'll kill her if she protests too loudly. He then makes it just as clear that he knows a lot about Kelly, her workplace and (perhaps most disturbingly) about her teenaged younger sister Toby (Stefanie Powers). The man warns Kelly not to call the police, but that he's going to use her to steal a hundred grand from the bank, and that if she gets the authorities involved or makes any other missteps he'll kill her—or Toby.
Kelly almost instantly disobeys the madman, running inside her home as soon as he's left and calling the FBI, where she gets a concerned agent named Ripley (Glenn Ford). In one of several terrifying moments scattered throughout the film, the line suddenly goes dead and we cut to Kelly's home to see that the madman has returned, found Kelly on the phone, and has shoved the poor woman to the ground where he's actually standing on her neck and threatening her again. However, Ripley doesn't give up and manages to get back in touch with her, and though she's extremely nervous, she and Ripley work out a code of sorts (in case the madman is eavesdropping somehow) and set up a meeting at Kelly's bank the next day.
The rest of Experiment in Terror plays out as a deadly cat and mouse game between several cat and mice. On one hand, Kelly and Toby are being stalked by the asthmatic madman, who is ultimately identified as the colorfully named "Red" Lynch (Ross Martin), a man who has indeed killed before, and a bank teller at that. But the FBI is alos increasingly on Lynch's trail, though Lynch, while suspicious, isn't completely aware of what's going on. The film is almost a voyeuristic masterpiece, with various elements spying on each other, all of it taking place in the bustling confines of San Francisco, which Edwards and his cinematographer Philip Lathrop utilize to often stunning effect.
Lee Remick never really erupted into superstardom for some reason, and Experiment in Terror remains one of her best leading role performances. Glenn Ford brings a stalwart seriousness to his FBI agent, and the supporting cast is largely quite excellent. But the film belongs to Martin in a very real way, which is all the more amazing because he's largely unseen, only heard, in vast swaths of the film. For Wild, Wild West fans, Martin does get to don one kind of whimsical disguise in the film that may bring a smile to some television fans' lips, even if the context is frankly quite disturbing.
The film is almost unbearably tense at times and to its credit it only ever devolves into outright stupidity once—when Toby receives a call from Lynch and responds like a panicked teenager, despite the fact that she's been warned about what's going on and knows that she's surrounded by a bevy of policemen. It's a frankly ludicrous moment and one that almost sets the apple cart teetering, but Edwards soon rights himself with a fantastic final act that takes place during a Major League baseball game between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the iconic Candlestick Park. It's a brilliantly constructed sequence that shows how artful Edwards could be in crafting thrillers as well as pie fights.
Experiment in Terror Blu-ray, Video Quality
Experiment in Terror is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. This is another great looking black and white transfer from the Columbia archives. It may not have the same lustrous blacks and bristling whites of other Twilight Time black and white releases, but the transfer presents extremely well graduated gray scale that captures Edwards' obvious desire to frame this film in a sort of quasi-noir ambience. The image is often quite breathtakingly well defined (one extreme close-up of Martin's face will give you ample opportunity to count the actor's pores, one by one). The location footage is sometimes just slightly soft in midrange and wide shots, but the bulk of this film looks appealingly sharp. The elements are in excellent condition and there does not appear to have been any over aggressive digital sharpening or noise reduction applied.
Experiment in Terror Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Experiment in Terror features an unexpected lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Twilight Time's Nick Redman isn't absolutely certain, but assumes the film was originally mono, but this repurposed 5.1 track that was provided by Columbia has little of the overly artificial surround activity that often mars such efforts. The bulk of the film utilizes the front channels for dialogue, with some ambient environmental effects and Henry Mancini's moody score (prominently featuring a spooky sounding autoharp) filling out the surrounds. Fidelity is excellent, with dialogue, effects and score all nicely rendered and extremely well prioritized. A couple of crowded scenes, like the café Toby goes to after school, and the final sequence in Candlestick Park, very nicely create an immersive aural atmosphere that smartly utilizes all of the surround channels.
Experiment in Terror Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Experiment in Terror Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Experiment in Terror is exciting, if just slightly far fetched at times. Blake Edwards keeps things moving at an almost breathless pace a lot of the time, which helps the film maintain momentum and keeps savvy viewers from thinking about some of the illogic that crops up in the plot. The film utilizes its San Francisco setting marvelously, and part of the enjoyment of this film is seeing the city in the early sixties. Remick is wonderful and Martin is unforgettable in one of his few featured film roles. This Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and even if supplementary material is a bit slim, it comes Recommended.
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