Monday, July 9, 2012

The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never Made Blogathon: Experiment in Terror (1962)



Suspense!  Thrills!  A lovely and resourceful heroine.  A beautiful city location that becomes a character.  A familiar director and composer combination.  An intriguing villain.  An ordinary setting made frightening.  Sounds like a Hitchcock film to me, but it’s not.  It’s Blake Edwards’ 1962 thriller Experiment in Terror.  Blake Edwards?  Operation Petticoat Blake Edwards?  The Pink Panther Blake Edwards?  The Great Race Blake Edwards?  Victor/Victoria Blake Edwards?  That’s the guy.  Blake Edwards who also gave us TVs Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, and Days of Wine and Roses and Wild Rovers and The Tamarind Seed.  Blake Edward could do it all.  He was a bit actor in films (“Corporal at counter” in The Best Years of Our Lives).  A young man with a vision and a distinct comic attitude who became a well known and popular  writer/producer/director.  Experiment in Terror falls between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Days of Wine and Roses in Edwards’ directing career. 

Experiment in Terror was adapted by The Gordons from their crime novel Operation Terror featuring their recurring character FBI agent John “Rip” Ripley.  Gordon Gordon was an editor and 20th Century Fox publicist as well as an FBI agent during World War 2.  Mildred Gordon had been a teacher and editor when the couple combined to writer novels and screenplays.  Their character Agent Ripley had been portrayed on film by Broderick Crawford in 1954s Down Three Dark Streets.  The Gordons also gave us the 1965 feature Disney’s That Darn Cat! based on their story Undercover Cat, which is another recurring character.

The first character we get to know in Experiment in Terror is the city of San Francisco (think Hitch’s Vertigo), this time in gleaming black and white.  The city at night gleams with a pristine sheen courtesy of talented cinematographer Philip Lathrop.  The city in the day is bright without warmth with harshness even in the innocent setting of teens at a swimming pool.  Lathrop received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1992 and in 1999 the Society of Camera Operators awarded him the Historical Shot award for his work as cameraman on the famous opening shot of Touch of Evil.  Lathrop’s two career Oscar nominations were for Earthquake and The Americanization of Emily.

Lee Remick, Ross Martin

The opening of the film shows us Miss Kelly Sherwood, bank cashier, at the routine action of driving home from work.  The city lights are as beautiful as stars around her, but there is a sense of unease heightened by Henry Mancini’s memorably moody score.  Kelly is accosted and intimidated by an unseen man, an eerie voice in the darkness.  He knows everything about her and she will be his partner in robbing her employer or Kelly and her teenage sister will come to harm.

Glenn Ford

Kelly is played by the Lee Remick, an actress with talent and looks to spare.  Like many of Hitchcock’s leading ladies (think Madeline Carroll, Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, etc.) she seemingly effortlessly conveys intellect as well as emotion.  Along with Hitchcock’s gals (think young Charlie, Iris Henderson and Lisa Fremont) Kelly is a resourceful and canny woman so despite warnings and physical harm she contacts the FBI.  Agent Ripley as played by Glenn Ford is a no-nonsense yet compassionate man.  Ripley is also a busy man.  Perhaps the case of lonely Nancy Ashton played by Patricia Huston involved with a man who may be about to commit a crime has something to do with the Sherwood file.  Miss Ashton works from home and her studio apartment filled with department store mannequins is the setting for a scary and shocking scene (think the carnival in Strangers on a Train or the windmill in Foreign Correspondent).

The FBI has little to go on except Kelly’s recollection of her tormentor’s asthmatic breathing.  The agents keep an eye on Kelly and her sister Toby, played by 20-year-old Stefanie Powers in her first big role, while investigating cases with a similar M.O.  Like the FBI, the viewers learn more of the villain as time passes.  At first we see only the dark shadow and hear the voice.  Later, we see his mouth during a phone call.  Eventually we see the full face of the villain in time to let us know that the man who picks Kelly up at a bar is not the man the FBI hope to apprehend.

Agent Ripley finally gets a name for the murderer, Garland “Red” Lynch, and gets promising leads on this character.  Ned Glass plays a quirky little police informant who knows a thing or two and plays by his own rules. Anita Loo is Red’s on again – off again girlfriend who refuses to co-operate with the authorities because of Red’s kindness and financial support to her disabled 6-year-old son.

Ross Martin

Red Lynch is played by Ross Martin from Blake Edwards’ Mr. Lucky TV show.  Ross Martin was one of those guys.  You know the type.  You’re watching a scene with half a dozen actors acting their heart out and Martin comes into the room, leans against the wall and gives them the once over with those baleful eyes and he’s the guy you watch.  Ross Martin had been an actor since his teen years and with a talent for dialects became in demand for radio and moved to television easily.  The road to movie stardom was strangely closed to him despite his association with Edwards in Experiment in Terror and The Great Race.  The studio build-up for his engrossing performance included keeping his identity secret until the end credit “Red Lynch played by Ross Martin”.  He received excellent notices and a Golden Globe nomination.  Unfortunately, a heart attack at age 38 may have frightened producers away from offering Ross Martin the large roles suitable for his large talent.  Luckily, television fans can still enjoy Ross Martin’s talents in a variety of guest spots and his signature role of Artemus Gordon on The Wild Wild West.  Costumes, largely of Martin's own devising, played a large and fun part in that television role, and a little old lady disguise is a shocker in Experiment in Terror (think Mrs. Bates from Psycho in the flesh).

"Red" Lynch

Knot in the stomach plot twists lead us through the crime to the climax in a crowded Candlestick Park during a Dodgers vs. Giants night game (think the music hall in The 39 Steps, the ballroom in Young and Innocent and the Albert Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much).  The audience is placed on tenterhooks wondering when Lynch will make his move, but we can be distracted by Don Drysdale on the mound, Harvey Kuenn at the plate and Willy McCovey in the outfield.  And wait, isn’t the stadium organist playing the theme to Mr. Lucky?  I think of that cheeky nod to his other collaboration with Henry Mancini and Ross Martin as Blake Edwards’ Hitchcock-like cameo appearance in the film.

The psychotic Red Lynch is reduced to a snarling animal and the girls are safe, as well as the bank’s funds (think “MacGuffin”), but you knew just looking at the stalwart Agent Ripley that it couldn’t end any other way.  And it sure feels good to get that knot out of your stomach.

I think Experiment in Terror is the best of The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never Made, but if you click on that phrase you’ll find different opinions and movies in this dandy blogathon hosted by Dorian of Tales of the Easily Distracted and Becky of ClassicBecky’s Brain Food


42 comments:

  1. Caftan, I agree.. you picked the perfect movie for the blogathon!! There are so many things Hitchcock: It's filmed in San Francisco, special effects and camera work and great performances. The only thing missing is his Cameo..

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  2. Also, like the best of Hitch, "Experiment in Terror" holds up well.

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  3. This is one I've somehow missed, CW. Certainly has a wonderful pedigree. Based on your interesting post, I must check it out. Sounds great. Thanks.

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  4. Loved this movie when I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago. Even though I knew "something" was coming I sure jumped in my theater seat in that early scene in the garage. Scary! Really enjoyed it including the San Francisco settings. Glad you spotlighted the movie in this post!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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  5. Caftan this is a sensational review of the perfect movie for this blogathon. I hope your excellent review will encourage anyone who hasn't seen this movie, to make it a top priority. (I also think San Francisco always looks better in Black and White. I just wish it looked that way whenever I go there.) Thanks for a great post!

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  6. Readerman, it seems to me that once you hear about a "new" movie then suddenly it starts popping up everywhere. I'll bet your chance to check it out comes real soon.

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  7. Laura, I enjoyed your post on the movie, especially including Mancini's theme from the opening. I've only had the opportunity to watch "Experiment in Terror" on television. It must pack quite a kick on the big screen.

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  8. Thanks, "Lasso The Movies". "Experiment in Terror" is one of those movies that when you mention it to someone and they have seen it there is an immediately and positive reaction. The movies always make a place look special.

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  9. For some reason, I never caught up to this movie, but I will check it out ASAP. Great write-up!

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  10. Thanks for the compliment. We doing what the blogging world is best at - sharing ideas and movies. After all, you introduced me to "The Prestige".

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  11. I must admit to ignorance regarding this film, both by reputation and title. Your review allowed me to see the film stands on its own apart from a connection to the great director. I’m intrigued by the similarity between this film and most of Hitchcock’s films, and that is the ability to capture a particular place and time in history (how people lived and played). The idea of setting the finale at a baseball game is inspired, sure to cause anxiety in even the most rainy fans. The information on Ross Martin was especially fascinating; as you said I have enjoyed him on "The Wild, Wild West", but knew little of his career and life otherwise.

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  12. You have tied this one up masterfully, so much so that I'm surprised it wasn't a Hitchcock film. Right down the "Mr Lucky" music cameo. Brilliant.

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  13. Yes, San Francisco is very much an important character in this film! I also agree that Blake Edwards could pretty much make any kind of movie. Interesting background on the writers--didn't know any of that!

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  14. CW, I greatly enjoyed your write-up of this movie that, like so many others in this blogathon, I've not only not seen, but never even heard of. And I have another one for my must-see list!

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  15. Caftan Woman, I've been a Blake Edwards fan for years (I even watch PETER GUNN episodes on Me-TV), so I was thrilled when you announced you'd be doing EXPERIMENT IN TERROR for our Blogathon! Your post was as fun, fascinating, and suspenseful as I knew it would be! Ironically, it's one of those films I keep stumbling across in the middle of the film, but I've liked the parts I've seen. After your terrific review, including your great details about Ross Martin and the wonderfully Hitchcockian settings and characters (Lee Remick is such a great choice for that role), I'm gonna do my darndest to catch up with it from start to finish. Fabulous post, CW -- thanks for being such a great part of our Blogathon!

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  16. Thank you all for the many kind words regarding the post.

    It's heartening to see so many fans of "Experiment in Terror" and to think we may have made new fans through this process.

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  17. CW - Blake Edwards was one of the first directors, along with Hitchcock I first came to admire. I must have seen this film about five or six times now, always a thrill. Again, we have another city that uses the city of San Francisco as its cinematic backdrop. And while I am not Glenn Ford's biggest admirer, his straight lace look makes for the perfect FBI agent. Ross Martin, I don't believe ever had a better role as the snarly asthma freak, and Lee Remick...wow! I can never say enough nice things about her as an actress and a beauty, she was class personified. The mannequin scene itself is worthy or Hitchcock. The film's Candlestick Park ending is classic and Henry Mancini's music perfect. Great background information here and a nice tribute to both Hitch and Blake Edwards.

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  18. Brilliant review - excellent Hitchcock analogies. This really is an neglected movie that so deserves a wider audience. That it isn't available for sale or rental on a wide release DVD is a crime. I had never heard of it until I came across a mention of it elsewhere while researching a different crime movie. I immediately went searching for a place that had the movie and plopped down 9.99 at Amazon's video service to watch it streaming on my computer. What an incredible start to this movie! Mancini's jazzy score and that menacing asthmatic voice terrorizing Lee Remick in her garage. So many great set pieces: the creepy scenes in the mannequin repairer's studio, the strange ersatz speakeasy when Remick is picked up by that mysterious man, the carnival scenes... Ross Martin was always one of my favorites. So underappreciated by Hollywood. The bulk of his work is on TV but he could've made a great supporting character actor in so many different films. He had a depth and range that so many actors from his era never manage (or never bother) to develop. Lucky he was cast as the man of hundred disguises on THE WILD, WILD WEST so he could show off that range.

    Had I known about this Hitchcockian movie tribute I would've nominated SLEEP, MY LOVE. which has shades of Suspicion and Spellbound, among others.

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  19. Great post, as usual, CW. This movie was terrifying for me and I absolutely loathed Ross Martin(almost as much as Joseph Cotten in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte). Funny thing about Blake Edwards... his films really do get better with time, don't they?

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  20. John (24 Frames), it wounds like "Experiment in Terror" has really gotten under your skin and I relate totally.

    Lee Remick defined class and was a rare talent who left us far too soon.

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  21. John, thanks for the kind words. Maybe Dorian and Becky have started something with this blogathon. I sadly had to tell someone who wanted to borrow the movie that I only have it on an old VHS tape. Maybe good vibes are in the air for a really solid DVD - um, Bluray (!) release. Plus, the world could use a few more Ross Martin fans.

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  22. FlickChick, isn't it marvelous the way Ross Martin creeps us out in "Experiment in Terror"? The performance is given quite a build up and doesn't disappoint in any way.

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  23. When I noticed the title I was immediatelt curious to read more about this film. And, since I'll just about watch anything with Lee Remick in it, I'm surprised I've missed this film.

    (And it has Ross Martin to boot!)

    Thanks for providing an addition to my list of movies to look out for.

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  24. This one is a real nail-biter. I really like it and enjoyed your take on the movie.

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  25. Michael, as you can tell by some of the other comments "Experiment in Terror" will not disappoint.

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  26. Considering that I'm both a Lee Remick and Ross Martin fan, I'm surprised I've never caught this film (especially one with such a tantalizing title). Thanks very much for adding an interesting title to my "Must See" list.

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  27. And sorry for repeating myself. I wasn't certain if my earlier comment made it through.

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  28. Wow, Blake Edwards shooting thrillers!
    I haven't seen this movie yet, but sounds great, even more with Lee Remick and Glenn Ford. Do you know that my golden dream is to emulate her hair in Anatomy of a Murder? :)
    Grretings,
    Le

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  29. Well, Le, I'm sure you will someday manage that "Anatomy of a Murder" look. Lee is the most attractive bank teller ever in "Experiment in Terror".

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  30. I really love this movie, ever since I saw it as kid on Elwy Yost night (as I called it) before I even knew I liked “old” movies, and funnily enough it was stuff like this and Hitchcock that totally hooked me on classics. I’ll never forget how the asthmatic breathing creeped me out, and rewatching it as a grownup still found it just as thrilling. very underrated too. Love it for all the reasons you mention, the stars, the story, the amazing look, the music, everything. Never knew the Gordon connection to Down Three Dark Streets though, which is another good movie &worth seeking out for noir fans. I hope people who’ve never heard of or seen this make a special effort to find it now, thanks to your great post. Thanks!

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  31. Kristina D, I too am a Disciple of Elwy. Elwy did not introduce me to "Experiment in Terror", but he introduced me to "Experiment in Terror" with no commercials. Elwy made me feel that it was "okay" to be a classic movie buff.

    Thanks for the compliment. I think we may have made some new fans through the blogathon.

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  32. Somehow I overlooked your contribution to the blogathon, Pat, but here I am after reconnoitering and seeing what I'd missed.

    I don't remember ever seeing this movie, but it was still fun to read about. It certainly seems like one that Hitchcock could have made. It appears to have all of his favorite twists and the setting couldn't be more perfect.

    I really do enjoy reading your posts. You are SUCH a movie maven. :)

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  33. Can't wait to see this. I'm a big fan of Blake Edwards' writing for the old "Philip Diamond" detective radio series. Experiment in Terror sounds like a terrific movie!

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  34. Caftan Woman,

    Great post with lots of nice background details (especially enjoyed reading about The Gordons and their Rip Ripley series of books)! I haven't seen EXPERIMENT IN TERROR but it sounds great. I like Lee Remick a lot (she's great in WILD RIVER and ANATOMY OF A MURDER) and always enjoy the underrated Glenn Ford...but I'm particularly intrigued to hear Ross Martin plays the bad guy. It is somewhat surprising that Martin never had the big movie career he deserved. Of course, he'll always be loved and remembered as Artemis Gordon.

    Jeff
    thestalkingmoon.weebly.com

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  35. Thanks, Yvette. I think you will find the movie much to your liking.

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  36. Blake Edwards always knew "cool", didn't he? Enjoy the movie, silverscreenings.

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  37. Thanks, Jeff. Ross Martin gives the type of performance that makes you grin because it is so good - at the same time that he is creeping the audience out.

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  38. Fabulous post, Caftan Woman, you've done a wonderful job of relating the scenario of "Experiment in Terror" while at the same time referencing Hitchcock films/scenes/characters. I first saw this film in a theater as a youngster and it was a real "experience in terror." Who knew Blake Edwards had the Hitchcock gene.

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  39. Thanks so much, Lady Eve. "Experiment in Terror" is on my list of movies I would one day like to experience on the big screen.

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  40. This looks pretty good. I've seen a lot of Blake Edwards' films, but never even knew about this one. Having it set in Frisco is definitely a bonus.

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  41. Rich, isn't it cool that Blake Edwards can still have surprises for his fans?

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