Experiment in Terror (Blake Edwards / U.S., 1962):

Exercise in style, shape of fear. San Francisco at night sets the baleful note, headlights on the highway then the inside of a garage and suddenly there's a gloved hand on your throat and an obscene rasp in your ear. The woman (Lee Remick) is a bank teller, the wheezing invader (Ross Martin) demands $100,000, her younger sister (Stefanie Powers) is his lever. On the case is the FBI agent (Glenn Ford), "fairly well-conditioned to shock" but duly rattled by the multiple planes of menace in the deep-focus widescreen. The other side of the Blake Edwards laugh, a pervasive anxiety at the world's desolate forms, not a jazzy Henry Mancini divertimento but low strings and electronic rumbling. (Days of Wine and Roses cracks the veneer from another angle.) A splash of Mack Sennett at a revival theater yields to the professional stoolie (Ned Glass) whose own scheme with the authorities reflects that of the culprit ("You play the game his way, or you don't play it at all"), a quick study of the doomed sculptress (Patricia Huston) in her atelier registers Kubrick's mannequins. City life, harshly-lit and hard-edged; the crowded nightclub comes with a subterranean shooting gallery, even a trip to the restroom gives a feint toward Psycho. The path leads to a Chinatown single mother (Anita Loo) with a nestling in the hospital (a big tiger plush with sad eyes plays silent witness), the camera at the close pulls away from Candlestick Park in an aerial view of the queasy spectacle. The kinship to Thompson's Cape Fear has been sufficiently noted, the ones to Boetticher's The Killer Is Loose and Stone's Cry Terror! less so. Edwards surveys this steel trap, tightens the screws and wryly pauses for the fortune cookie's message to his unstrung characters: "An offer of a better job." The compliment to Stray Dog is returned in High and Low. Cinematography by Philip Lathrop. With Roy Poole, Gilbert Green, Clifton James, and Warren Hsieh. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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