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: Experiment In Terror (1962) San Francisco Tailfin Noir  ( 2067 )
cigar joe
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« : February 05, 2016, 05:15:22 AM »

A neat 1962 Suspense-Thriller Noir that fits into that particular period from mid to late 1950's early 1960's that is visually defined on cars by the Space Age design feature the tail fin, and by Googie style signage and architecture. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film was directed by Blake Edwards, Mickey Spillane's 'Mike Hammer!' (TV Movie 1954) Days of Wine And Roses (1962), and written by Mildred and Gordon Gordon and was based on their 1961 novel, Operation Terror.

The film stars Glenn Ford (seven classic noir films), Lee Remick (Anatomy of a Murder (1959)), Stefanie Powers, and Ross Martin. Supporting cast Ned Glass, Anita Loo, Patricia Huston, Clifton James, Al Avalon, James Lanphier, and William Sharon. The film is greatly enhanced by the excellent cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop who was assistant camera on Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948), camera operator on (The Raging Tide (1951), Touch Of Evil (1958), lensed as cinematographer a couple of critically forgettable Paul Henreid directed films, and a string of TV series, (Rawhide, and the noir-ish, Mr. Lucky, Peter Gunn, and Perry Mason)

The film's night time opening title sequence is of Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick), driving 58 Ford Fairlane Sunliner top down convertible across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. She is framed against a twinkling San Francisco skyline that features inky blacks pierced by strings of pearl streetlights and moving headlights becomes a harbinger of the noir stylistics to come, breathtaking contrasts, and unsettling camera angles.

San Francisco -Oakland Bay Bridge


Sherwood is a cute bank teller who lives on a hill overlooking the city with her 16-year-old sister (Stefanie Powers) in the Twin Peaks section of San Francisco. As we continue to follow her home from a party in Oakland to her house, she is grabbed from behind after she gets out of her car and is assaulted in her dark garage by a man with a raspy wheezing voice. The shot is in an uncomfortable extreme close-up. The Wheezer threatens to either kill her or her sister if she doesn't cooperate in his plan to rob her bank. The man ratchets up the terror factor by letting Kelly know that he has been stalking them for a while, he even emphasises the point that he even knows intimate things, i.e., her measurements. The way the scene plays out we know that he is fondling her as he calls out her hips, waist, and bust size by her reactions. 

Wheezer attacks Hips, Waist, Bust, fondling sequence

When the man leaves, Kelly not very intimidated, goes into her house and dials up the FBI. She's switch boarded to Agent John 'Rip' Ripley (Glenn Ford) who is just able to get her name before the line goes dead.  It's The Wheezer, he assumed that she'd make her call for help and entering her house he's smacked her to the floor and hung up the phone. When Kelly comes to he tells her that she get's to make this one mistake, and she'd better follow his precise instructions from now. The Wheezer leaves again and an increasingly terrorized Kelly is immobilized by fear.  Lying in despair by the phone she is startled when it suddenly rings. It's the FBI, Ripley and the bureau has managed to suss out where she lives.

Ripley FBI

The film balances between being a policer and a suspense thriller that surprisingly keeps Kelly pretty level headed throughout, and doesn't fall into the now greatly over used "saviour becomes lover" trope. Ripley and the G men are all business. They search for similar MO's and chase leads. They even get a small break when one of The Wheezer's gal pals Nancy Ashton (Patricia Huston), who has a mannequin repair business, suspects something is up and nervously visits the FBI with her suspicions. Nancy fibs a bit telling Ripley that it's her friend that's in trouble, she even propositions Ripley for a date but again stressing professionalism Ripley begs off.  Nancy later works up some courage and phones Ripley to tell him that she has information and asks him to drop by but Wheezer kills her before Ripley arrives.

Ashton and Ripley

Ashton mannequin repair

Ashton dead and nude and hanging from the ceiling

A police informant named "Popcorn" (Ned Glass in a nice cameo) who sells tips supplies more pieces to the puzzle telling the FBI that he's overheard phone conversations between a forger and man that fits their MO a man named Red Lynch. Lynch raped and killed a bank teller in Kansas after she would not go along with his scheme. Lynch's profile also shows that he is fond of Chinese females, which sends Ripley and the FBI into Chinatown with mug shots of Lynch.

Chief, Popcorn, Ripley

The film even has a somewhat humorous sequence, when The Wheezer gives Kelly instructions to meet at The Gay Nineties Club, the place is packed with customers and also FBI men. As Kelly walks around trying to meet with Wheezer she is looking at various men and in tern attracting their attention while under surveillance . One guy approaches her thinking she is a hooker, and Kelly at first assumes that he is the Wheezer. She walks out of the club with him and to his car, as they drive away, followed by a convoy of FBI cars, he indicates that she should move closer and sit beside him. She balks saying that it's only business, the guy is thinking OK she wants money. When Kelly suddenly realizes he thinks she's a prostitute she bolts from the car and he is surrounded by FBI agents with drawn guns.

Kelly picked up as a common prostitute

As the asthmatic schizophrenic killer Red Lynch (Ross Martin), practically steals the show. Martin isn't just a single layer - one note villain, he is eventually revealed as having a normal serious relationship with a Chinese woman named Lisa Soong (Anita Loo), serious to the extent of paying the hospital costs for her son's hip replacement operation. He even visits him at the hospital, bringing him expensive stuffed animals. This normality all proves his Achilles heel.

Stefanie Powers is perfect as Toby, Kelly's younger sister who is still a bit of an awkward teenager, still that has that little bit of baby fat, but you can see beyond to the beauty that she will become.

I can't express enough how much this late Film Noir is an addictive visual treat, it's full of striking compositions, skewed by unsetting camera angles, teeming with bizarre interior sets all added to wonderful San Francisco location shots.  The film also has a good score from long time Blake Edwards collaborator Henry Mancini. 9/10

Could this be the first hoodie wearing bad guy?

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« #1 : February 05, 2016, 06:45:43 AM »

CJ, another superior write-up! And I agree, the film is great. Well represented on home video: the TT Blu-ray is a treat.

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« #2 : February 05, 2016, 12:15:12 PM »

yes, enjoy reading your reviews as always, CJ  O0

Though as usual, I don't give this noir nearly as high marks as you do; I give it a 7/10

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