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Noir-vember 2014: Cry Terror!

Posted by martinteller on November 16, 2014

“I’m the man that duped your husband into the making the bomb, that makes him the patsy. It’s as short, sweet and simple as that.”

Jim Molner (James Mason) has a meeting with Paul Hoplin (Rod Steiger), his buddy from the demolition squad in the Army.  Hoplin offers a golden opportunity: if Molner can come up with a new detonation device, Hoplin can get him a government contract.  But the whole thing was a ruse.  Hoplin uses Molner’s device to plant on passenger jets, extorting half a million dollars from an airline while innocent lives hang in the balance.  To add insult to injury, Hoplin kidnaps Molner, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and their young daughter.  Hoplin and his crew — nervous henchman Vince (Jack Klugman), daring gal Kelly (Angie Dickinson) and sex-crazed Benzedrine addict Steve (Neville Brand) — plan to use Joan to pick up the money, with Jim and their child as insurance.  FBI Agent Frank Cole (Kenneth Tobey) and his men work feverishly to track down the terrorist, but Hoplin’s figured out all the angles.

This is the fifth noir I’ve seen by director Andrew L. Stone (working here with his wife Virginia as editor, as he often did).  None have been either terribly bad or terribly impressive, they range from blah (A Blueprint for Murder) to pretty decent (The Night Holds Terror).  This is somewhere in the middle of that not very exciting range.  On the plus side, most of the cast is quite good.  Brand — as he did in the otherwise disappointing D.O.A. — absolutely steals the show.  He’s one of noir’s great heavies, and can convincingly pull off dangerously deranged without going full psycho.  The scenes where Stevens is left alone with him (even his cohorts call him “the creep”) are the most memorable by far.  But Steiger is pretty great as the cold, calculating mastermind, reminiscent of Wendell Corey’s performance in The Killer is Loose (maybe it’s the glasses).  Klugman, Dickinson and Tobey are also enjoyable to watch, and Mason is good if not doing anything especially noteworthy.

But man, Inger Stevens is tiresome in this.  Her character is a frenzied mess of hysteria, always in panic mode.  It doesn’t take long before you wish they’d just shoot her already.  The film also includes a lot of contrivances and too-close calls, an action sequence that is not only tedious but has no effect on the plot whatsoever, and scads of unnecessary narration (first from the usual voice of authority, then Stevens, and later Mason).

There is occasional tension, but you never feel too invested.  The best parts are Brand, the use of New York locations, and the last two minutes.  Most of the rest of it is misguided or routine or merely okay.  Rating: Fair (67)

IMDb
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