This movie has a lot going for it. There is plot interest, there is suspense, there are interesting players. Direction is gripping (Blake Edwards), and cinematography is spot on. So what’s wrong? It’s a matter of plot detail. Writers Mildred Gordon and Gordon Gordon possibly had instructions from the producer when they adapted their novel Operation Terror to the screen. I will get to those points.
It’s Experiment in Terror from Columbia Pictures in 1962 and starring Lee Remick and Glenn Ford. Remick is Kelly Sherwood, a young, pretty and single teller in a large San Francisco bank. Edwards opens the film with a night shot of commuters crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge on her way home after work.
She drives in apparent comfort, unaware her life will in a few minutes be torn apart.
Arriving home, Kelly is assaulted by a stranger (Ross Martin) in the darkness of her garage. The man does not harm her, but he tells her he will kill her, and her teenage sister Toby (Stefanie Powers), as well, if she does not agree to steal $100,000 from the bank. He says he knows everything about her, and he will be watching her. Things will go badly for her if she contacts the police.
Of course, phoning the FBI is about the first thing Kelly does after her attacker leaves. The FBI never sleeps, and agent John Ripley (Ford) takes her call. Kelly gets out a few words before her tormentor knocks her cold and hangs up the phone. He never really left the house, but somehow gained entrance so he could re-emphasize his threat.
Ripley and other agents get busy and attempt to identify the interrupted caller. In short order they reach the right number, and Kelly explains her predicament, speaking in coded language to Ripley, as though the call is from a co-worker trying to locate a lost lighter.
Early the following day another woman turns up at the FBI office and talks to Ripley. She is Nancy Ashton, played by Patricia Huston. She tells him “a friend” is in a relationship with a dangerous man, and she wants some advice. Here the plot goes off rail. In real life Nancy Ashton would be contacting the San Francisco police, not the FBI. The FBI might be interested in a potential bank robbery but not what could amount to a blown up case of domestic abuse.
As it turns out, the dangerous man is Garland “Red” Lynch, the bank robber, and before Ripley and the FBI can discover that fact Nancy Ashton is murdered.
Experiment in Terror is just that. It’s all about Lynch’s campaign to terrorize Kelly Sherwood so she will cooperate with him at the critical time. She goes to meet her tormentor at a San Francisco night spot and fails to connect with him there. Instead she mistakes a pickup master for Lynch and is in his car with him on the streets of San Francisco before realizing her mistake. Her escape ends on the pavement as a large truck screeches to a halt just short of her head. That’s exciting.
Putting pieces together, the FBI agents figure out it’s Lynch they are after. He has killed twice before, and he has a preference for pretty Asian women. That leads them to Lisa Soong (Anita Loo) and her six-year old son Joey (Warren Hsieh). Lisa won’t cooperate with authorities, because Lynch has been kind to her, fronting the expenses of Joey’s serious medical problems.
There is an informant, however. He is called “Popcorn” (Ned Glass), and he leads Ripley to a place where a runner gets periodic phone calls from Lynch. This turns out badly, as Popcorn and the runner are killed when a gun fight erupts.
That leaves the FBI scrambling as the critical day, Friday, arrives, and Kelly is ordered to steal the money and meet Lynch. He has kidnapped Toby and will kill her if Kelly doesn’t play along. At Fisherman’s Wharf Kelly receives a call at a phone booth and is instructed to take a waiting cab. The driver hands Kelly a package containing Toby’s clothes and a ticket to a baseball game featuring the Los Angeles Dodges and the San Francisco Giants. This establishes the corner in time for this drama. When was the last time you ever got into a major league game for $2.50?
Viewers are treated to some great scenes at a major league game at Candlestick Park, apparently featuring some real players. That’s just Blake Edwards giving viewers an added touch of realism and working to build the tension as Kelly waits in the stands with her handbag stuffed with $100,000 of the bank’s money.
It all comes to naught. There is a final out (double play), the Giants win, and Kelly moves with the crowd toward the exits. The cops move in as Lynch grabs Kelly in the crowd. Lynch ends it on the pitcher’s mound in a final shootout with Ripley while a police helicopter hovers above. Kelly and Toby are reunited in the emptying stadium.
Yeah, that wasn’t very cool. Early in the plot we hear the agents discussing Lynch’s strategy. Lynch is working on the assumption Kelly will contact the police. His plan is so well constructed that he will succeed regardless. Really? His plan is so well constructed that it involves grabbing the money in a mob of people at the stadium with the possibility there are hundreds of cops all around? Somewhere the script writers changed their minds about the elegance of Lynch’s scheme.
You can get a hard copy of the book from Amazon, starting at $0.99 (plus shipping) and check out the authors’ original intent. I’m guessing the Candlestick Park episode was put in for viewer interest at the expense of viewer credulity.
Remick is pretty and sexy. Ford is incredibly hansom. The two never connect in the movie. Bank teller Kelly Sherwood has another love interest and not all that much of a hot one. Nobody goes to bed in this movie. It’s all about the plot, and that’s a strong feature. I’m of a school that likes a story about sex, and the story is about sex. No high speed chases, no psychological thriller. And when the plot is about an unfolding crime scheme, that’s what the movie is about, and you don’t break the tension having characters copulating during breaks in the action. That’s because these romantic interludes really do break the action and allow the tension to lapse.
Ross Martin went on to bigger things. He was a Secret Service agent for four seasons in The Wild Wild West, doing a lot of television after that and finishing up with a TV movie I Married Wyatt Earp. He died in 1981. The TV movie came out in 1983 if IMDB is to be believed.