This is a fast-paced noir with a gritty, tense atmosphere, and a commanding performance by Charles McGraw as the escaped con Kluger. In fact, Kluger’s character has a lot in common with some of the sci-fi/horror monsters of the era. He’s a relentless beast, pouncing on anyone who tries to hinder his goal of leaving the country with a pile of stolen money. His character helps make The Threat interesting, but overshadows all of the other performances.
Kluger’s strategy involves kidnapping the two law enforcement personnel (Michael O’Shea and Frank Conroy) who were mostly responsible for his incarceration. A revenge plot is used effectively in other crime dramas, but here it doesn’t make a lot of sense. O’Shea’s Ray and Conroy’s McDonald are rather too easily abducted; they spend most of the rest of the movie in the background, along with a completely hapless truck driver (Don McGuire). The fact that the two cops come out on top has more to do with Carol’s (Virginia Gray’s) intervention than their ineffectual actions. Carol has some knowledge of the original caper, so it’s reasonable that Kluger would keep pumping her for information.
Everything that Ray and ‘Mac’ (MacDonald) knows that could help Kluger he sweated out of them fairly quickly. They can’t possibly help him anymore; Kluger never threatens their families, which would’ve added another dimension to the drama. So why doesn’t he just kill the two guys? Since Kluger clearly doesn’t even trust his own muscle guys, it might’ve worked better to have him just face off with them, with the money as the bone of contention. Once Ray and Mac subdue the two goons they have a shot at ambushing Kluger; but, strangely, Mac stays put, leaving Ray to take on Kluger by himself. Carol, for all of her hysterical scenes, is ultimately a better antagonist.
The main problem with the plot, though, is Joe’s character. He’s inexplicably passive. He has at least three decent chances to surprise Kluger with his hidden gun, but waits instead. When he actually does get the gun out he again hesitates, allowing Kluger to overwhelm him. Joe even has a chance to simply walk away, but gives that up too. It’s more interesting watching Ray’s wife Ann (Julie Bishop) agonize over his disappearance than to watch Ray and the other hostages.
A good device are the phony calls Ray makes to headquarters when he’s under duress; those scenes add tension, as we wonder if the cops and Ann will see the incongruity in what he says versus what they know. It’s sort of like the monster controlling a human who has fallen into its grasp. Another nice touch are the circling planes–Kluger is visibly shaken, he has to wonder if it’s his accomplice Tony, or the police.
The solid revenge premise could’ve made The Threat an outstanding noir, but the plot suffered from using its characters awkwardly, and counting on the lead to carry the movie. I would’ve liked to have seen Carol, Lefty, and Nick more developed, with less Ray and Mac. And forget Joe. Overall, The Threat starts and ends well, but there’s too many dead ends along the way for it to keep our suspension of disbelief intact. 6/10.