Glenn Ford (John ‘Rip’ Ripley), Lee Remick (Kelly Sherwood), Ross Martin (Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch), Stefanie Powers (Toby Sherwood), Roy Poole (Brad), Ned Glass (‘Popcorn’), Anita Loo (Lisa), Patricia Huston (Nancy Ashton)
“I hear you haven’t been feeling too good.” “Ooooh. If I was a building, they’d condemn me
Mildred and Gordon Gordon’s Operation: Terror originated as a serial for the Ladies Home Journal. They were given $125,000, the most at the time for a suspense novel. Their Undercover Cat was turned into That Darn Cat! by Disney. Interestingly, both concerned sisters living alone working with an agent of the F.B.I.
Due to his recent work in comedy, many considered Edwards a strange choice for this type film. They had forgotten he’d been the creative force behind television’s ‘Peter Gunn.’ The helmsman stated, “I wanted to try something that was . . . away from things I was suddenly finding myself involved in.” It would be the first of his motion pictures to be in black-and-white, and Philip Lathorp’s camerawork is a masterpiece.
Remick was Edwards’ favorite actress to work with, and they made another picture in 1962, Days of Wine and Roses. It was set in San Fransisco as well. Yet they never worked again after this magical year for the duo.
Columbia’s publicity department really went to town went it came to keeping the identity of who portrayed Lynch a secret. (Edwards went along with this, only revealing Martin bit by bit throughout the picture.) The actor was escorted to a series of ‘Who is he?’ interviews while gagged and masked and was to be referred to as “Mr. Blank.” His name not appearing until the end of the picture, it gave Experiment In Terror a great deal of hype.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the picture is the rarity of the romantic aspect between ‘Rip’ and Kelly. Both are attractive individuals, yet neither’s attracted to the other. Kelly’s dating another man, which is hinted at here and written about more in the Gordons’ work. The novel also covers Ripley’s romance with a Bureau secretary, which isn’t in the film.
Experiment In Terror is a remarkable view at the victims of crime. Kelly’s terrified beyond belief, realizing if Lynch knows she’s contacted the authorities, she’s dead. Yet her sense of values won’t let her cooperate with him. As this motion picture suffers from a lack of recognition, Kelly is one of the cinema’s greatest unrecognized heroines.
Sadly, keeping his name out of the press cost Martin a much deserved Oscar nomination. A tragic mistake on the Academy’s part, for the man was most deserving, and should have walked off with the statue that year. Bosley Crowthey labeled him “as ugly and repulsive as one could ask any villain could be.” He set the pace for screen villainy to come, and those who portray roles such as these today can thank Ross Martin for setting the bar.
No one knows why Experiment In Terror has fallen by the wayside. Yet along with Days of Wine and Roses, it ranks and Edwards’ finest cinematic achievement, showing that in 1962, he and Remick were truly in their stride. What a pity they didn’t continue to work more as a team.
Henry Mancin’s score is fascinatingly eerie, and the entire cast is on their toes throughout the film, but Martin, in playing a murderous extortionist, was robbed of the Oscar himself. And Lathrop scores as well. An unsung gem.
J.M. Harrison is the author of Pass the Popcorn, Please: 87 Watchable Movies You Should View.