Great cast for this mystery/crime drama. Kelly and Toby Sherwood (Lee Remick and Stephanie Powers) are sisters terrorized by Red Lynch (Ross Martin), a psychopathic type whose voice is almost scarier than his actual prescence. Glenn Ford is FBI Agent Ripley who’s assigned to the case. Red’s motive is extortion–he threatens Kelly and Toby so that Kelly will steal from the bank where she works.
Very quick start, as the whispering Red accousts her in her garage, laying out his extortion plan. Plus he lets on enough details of Kelly’s and Toby’s lives, that she’s completely freaked. Despite his warning about ‘cooperating,’ she’s not about to automatically give in. She gets Ripley on the case, even though Red has lingered around to attack her. It’s agonizing to hear her filter her first call with Ripley, as, legitimately, Red could be listening, or even still be around the house.
There’s misdirection, along a couple of long, winding paths. One subplot involves a mannikin maker, Nancy Ashton (Patricia Huston) who apparently has history with Red and his deal; the other, an Asian-American woman, Lisa Soong (Anita Loo) and her son. Ripley and his partner go to Nancy’s studio to check on a lead; she’s found hung, upside down, among the mannikins.
At Nancy’s crime scene, The police Captain shares with Ripley a tip from an informer, ‘Popcorn’ (Ned Glass). We see the asthmatic Red in his own digs; the first business of his day is a wake-up call to the Sherwood sisters. Kelly’s supposed to meet him that night “or I’ll just have to contact your little sister.”
So, on to the crowded, blowsy club. the cinematography really shows off in these scenes, with dizzying perspectives from girls in swings. Red shows himself, in fact, along with other creeps, and undercover cops. She’s more or less tricked by a him in the parking lot. But the cops close in just before she’s creamed by a truck.
The newest tip ties Red to Asian-American accomplices. So, into Chinatown, and, particularly, to Lisa. She’s reticent–gets her attorney (Clarence Yung) to come by. Now, she talks, but doesn’t have any great info on Red. Ripley can nonetheless now tie Red into Nancy’s murder. At the hospital, they look in on Lisa’s son. Has he seen Red? Yep, ‘Uncle Red.’
Red’s been financing the kid’s hospital bills, thus Lisa’s protective attitude. At a restaurant, Kelly’s threatened by Red, creepily in the guise of a crotchety old woman. Another vertiginous scene for Kelly in the restroom, but she recovers. Red reminds her about the prize $100k prize that she’s supposed to get from the bank. At Toby’s swim club, Ripley meets Popcorn, pointing out the sisters to him, working on his sense of ethics to not sell his info and leave the women vulnerable.
That night, at the stake-out, a bit of a red herring with a harmless drunk, then Popcorn gives Ripley a lead on Red’s collaborater. In a perfectly noirish back alley scene (wrecked cars and fire escapes included) the guy shoots it out, but Popcorn is killed.
Back with Lisa’s kid, it seems a toy tiger might be a clue; meanwhile, a clever hint/threat that Kelly’s been hurt draws Toby into an ambush. Now she’s a prisoner of the psychopath. Of course, Red calls Kelly, with more instructions, and the obvious bad news that he’s got Toby in his clutches.
She’s locked in a coffin-like closet. Back in the superficially normal world, Kelly purloins the ransom money at her bank window. What? Why wouldn’t the bank set up and enable this? They know all about the extortion plan, as we’ve seen earlier in a meeting of her, Ripley, and the bank manager. Anyway, from the phone booth in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, she gets into a cab headed to Candlestick Park.
This criminal is theatrical–why not have rendevous at Coit Tower and Lombard Street as well? Anyway, she’s directed to a specific spot in the stadium for ‘the drop’. Back in the City, the toy tiger’s long trail is followed, which ultimately leads to poor Toby.
Switching to the denouement at Candlestick, the baseball game’s over, but the criminal game has a few moves yet in play. Stuck in the crowd, again an agonisingly cramped noir space, Kelly is momentarily within Red’s grasp. She’s plucked away to safety. The last scene is masterful. Red, looking very psycho in hoodie gear, runs aaround the aisles of the deserted stadium and onto the field. The police close in and nail him.
Great composition between and within scenes, and very strong performances, especially by Ford, Remick, and Powers. The subplots, however, drag this down; literally, with so much added run time, and thematically, by deviating from the plot line. The mannikin stuff is kind of creepy-cool, but Nancy’s character adds nothing to the plot. The motif would work in well with Red’s character, but that’s not explored.
More significantly, Lisa and her son are major distractions–all we get out of it is the toy tiger, not much of a payoff. Both the stuffed animal and the mannikins could been fetishes of Red’s without adding a half hour superstructure of characters and situations that just disappear.
Experiment in Terror is very entertaining–a sort of bridge from the ’40s/’50s film noir and the psychopathic criminal (as in 1960’s Psycho) from the ’60s and later.
Farmermouse is still hanging out at The Hangout, so he gives this eight milkshakes. 8/10