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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Well, as I always say, you meet the strangest people in the ladies room."
DVD ReviewThe legendary Pink Panther movies and hits like the sexy 10 and cross-dressing Victor/Victoria make it easy to dismiss Blake Edwards as merely a slapstick comedy director. But in 1962, Edwards jumped off the comedy treadmill and switched gears, exploring two different genres with the same female star (Lee Remick). While many regard the heartbreaking The Days of Wine and Roses as his finest film, Edwards' other 1962 release, Experiment in Terror, proffers further evidence of his versatility. Often overlooked and not entirely successful, the film marks the director's initial foray into suspense, and he displays his enthusiasm by embracing the genre like a Hitchcock protégé.
The film opens with the lovely Kelly Sherwood (Remick) motoring through the San Francisco night toward her home in the Twin Peaks neighborhood. Outside her garage, a wheezing intruder (Ross Martin) grabs her, then breathlessly spouts off detailed personal information about Kelly and her teenage sister Toby (Stefanie Powers). Eyes bulging with fright, Kelly listens as the man (cleverly masked by darkness) orders her to steal $100,000 from the bank where she works, or risk family peril. She's direly warned against alerting the police, but musters the courage to contact FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford), who, of course, ends up using Kelly as bait to catch the killer.
A conventional woman-in-jeopardy thriller, the strength of Experiment in Terror lies not in its story, but in its presentation. Edwards at once creates a dark, creepy mood (enhanced by Henry Mancini's marvelous, understated score) and his generous use of (often extreme) close-ups makes the tension more intimate and heightens the atmosphere of desperation. After a slam-bang opening, Edwards pulls back and deliciously elongates the suspense, allowing the plot and characters to percolate. Such a leisurely style is all too rare these days and lets the viewer cuddle up to the film and become immersed in the story. Unfortunately, Edwards lingers a bit too long—some judicious editing would have given the film a boost in its second half—and after the big build-up, the climax doesn't deliver to the extent desired. The abrupt ending also quashes the mood too quickly, but Experiment in Terror still pleases, just not to the anticipated degree.
Edwards wisely shoots Experiment in Terror in black & white and uses the film stock brilliantly in scenes with high contrast and murky shadows. Ditto his work with sound, employed to great effect to jolt the audience. Sirens, a ringing telephone, an alarm clock and a shooting gallery all provide jarring thrills and ratchet up suspense. On the flip side, the villain's asthmatic whispering lends an eerie sense of foreboding to many scenes without delving into caricature.
Performances are first-rate, but hampered by a hit-and-miss script. Remick is given little to do except look frightened, which she accomplishes without sacrificing her cool, Grace Kelly-like beauty. Ford, one of Hollywood's most underrated actors, is solid as a rock, allowing a hint of sensitivity to soften his square-jawed G-man. And it's fun to see Powers early in her career carrying schoolbooks and wearing cardigans—a far cry from Hart to Hart a couple of decades later.
While well filmed and often engrossing, Experiment in Terror just misses inclusion in the classic thriller club. Still, Edwards' own experiment with the genre achieves the desired results, proving his light comedic touch could, on occasion, morph into a darker, heavier hand—with equal style and skill. If only all experiments could turn out so well.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: A widescreen black & white film can be a thing of beauty if properly shot and presented, and Columbia has done a magnificent job transferring Experiment in Terror to DVD. Remastered in high definition, the print is nearly flawless, with only a few age-related speckles occasionally cropping up. Many scenes rely heavily on severe contrast, yet lines are always clean and smooth, nicely balancing the varying degrees of light. Films of this type often look muddy, but Experiment in Terror never suffers from this malaise. Shadow detail is excellent (except when Edwards purposely shrouds the villain's identity) and even the close-ups exhibit a lushness more akin to Technicolor than black & white. Everything about this transfer impresses and adds immeasurably to one's enjoyment of the movie.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The digitally mastered mono track does a good job of complimenting the movie. Dialogue is clear and easily understood, with distortion totally absent and no evidence of any pops or hiss. Despite the limited sound field, background noises still manage to float across the room somewhat, lending Experiment in Terror a fuller audio presence than other mono discs—a nice surprise considering the film's age. Levels are consistent throughout, save for the jarring sounds mentioned above, which are appropriately unnerving.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Big Heat, The Lady from Shanghai
Extras Review: The film's original trailer and two trailers for other Columbia noir classics are the only extras included on this disc.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsExperiment in Terror strives to rival Hitchcock and nearly succeeds. Filmed with panache and invention, this Blake Edwards thriller lags a bit during its second half but still features an absorbing story and plenty of nail-biting suspense. The terrific, high-quality transfer and crystal clear audio loft this disc into the recommended category.
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