Blake Edwards is best known for the “Pink Panther” series and later on for a few hits in the 1980’s like “SOB”, “10” and “Victor, Victoria.” Edwards’ career however, started back to the 1940’s where he began as an actor, though not achieving much success at it. Looking at his credits in IMDB, I noticed he did appear in quite a few well known films like “The Best Years of Our Lives”, “They Were Expendable” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” The roles were very small and if you blink your eyes, well, as they say, you would miss him.
In the late forties Edward produced, co-produced and co-wrote two low budget westerns, “Panhandle” and “Stampede.” His last film as an actor was a 1948 flick called “Leather Gloves” whose only significance is that it was co-directed by Richard Quine. Edwards and Quine would go on to work on many projects together as co-writers or writer and director or any combination thereof. Their films include “Drive a Crooked Road”, “Operation Madball”, “My Sister Eileen”, “He Laughed Last” and “The Notorious Landlady.” Edwards work as a director began in the early 1950’s with Four Star Playhouse, a TV anthology series. His first feature film, “Bring Your Smile Along” was written by Edwards and Quine. His first significant film was “Mr. Corey” starring Tony Curtis and Martha Hyer. Though he continued to make films, Edwards big break came in 1958 with the private eyes series “Peter Gunn.” With its jazzy hip Henry Mancini theme song and noir like atmosphere, “Peter Gunn”, which only ran for two seasons, has long since developed a following. Edwards revived the character twice since then, in the 1967 feature film “Gunn” with Craig Stevens reviving his role as Gunn and again in 1989 with the made for TV film “Peter Gunn” with Pete Strauss in the lead role.
Edwards’ first big screen hits were two military comedies, “The Perfect Furlough” with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and “Operation Petticoat” with Curtis again and Cary Grant. This was followed by “Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 and then in 1962 Edwards stepped back into the world of noir with “Experiment in Terror” starring Glenn Ford, not as a hip P.I. but as a straight and very square FBI agent. “Experiment in Terror” is based on a novel called “Operation Terror” written by the husband and wife team of Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon. They always signed their works as The Gordons. A few of their other novels have been adapted to the screen, most notably “Undercover Cat” which Disney turned into “That Darn Cat!”
Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is a beautiful young bank teller who is accosted in her garage one night by an unseen asthmatic psycho (Ross Martin) who threatens to kill her and her teenage sister Toby (Stephanie Powers) if she does not steal $100,000 from the bank where she works. Kelly contacts the FBI however; the psychotic madman seems to know every step Kelly makes. FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford) attempts to protect Kelly and her sister while trying to hunt down the psychopath though he has no leads to go on. Ripley working with a local police informant eventually identifies the man as Red Lynch (Ross Martin), a criminal who already has two murders to his credit. Soon after, in order to ensure Kelly goes through with the robbery Lynch kidnaps id sister Toby. It all comes to a climatic boil at the San Francisco Giant’s Candlestick Park in a game with the Dodgers. The film’s suspenseful ending is classic and one the more famous in cinema.
“Experiment in Terror has a lot going for it, a menacing score from Henry Mancini, excellent noir like cinematography from Philip Lathrop especially in the beginning, which is one of the most menacing openings of any on film on celluloid. A wonderful performance from the beautiful and intelligent Lee Remick while Ross Martin is truly creepy as the sick Red Lynch and Glenn Ford gives it his stoic best. On the minus side, the film is a bit too long. Chopping off about 15 minutes would have tightened up the pace. Edwards though is known for his extended scenes, liking the action to play out. While this worked well in “The Pink Panther” series where it gave Peter Sellers plenty of space and time, here it feels like the pacing drags the film a bit. There is also a subplot involving an earlier victim of Lynch’s who comes to Ripley’s office saying a “friend” of hers is in trouble and would Ripley help. Soon after, Ripley and his partner go to the woman’s apartment, where they find her hanging upside down between a series of mannequins. I can see why Edwards would want to keep this scene in the film. While the scene is eerie and visually stunning, the entire sequence could have been removed without any damage to the overall story. Other than the fact that this woman was an earlier victim of Lynch’s the only connection between her and Kelly Sherwood is a mysterious note containing the name Sherwood. It remains unclear how the dead woman knew Kelly’s name. As mentioned Glenn Ford’s character is stoic, straight laced. There is no sign of any personal life nor does he ever show any interest in Kelly as a woman other than the fact that she is a victim that he has to protect. He comes across as a “just the facts” lawman as Sgt. Joe Friday used to say. Then again, no one in the film seems to have much of a love life except for teenage Toby who hangs out with her friends and has a boyfriend. While we never see or here anything about Ripley’s private life, Kelly, whose personal life we do see also seems to be lacking any sort of real relationship with a man, other than the psychopath Red Lynch, in her life. One co-worker who asks her out to dinner is quickly shrugged off with a “call me tomorrow.” True, Kelly does have other things on her mind right now than dinner with a man. You would think though that a drop dead beautiful woman like that would certainly show some signs of a man in her life now or at least in the past. Ross Martin as Red Lynch gives us a menacing vision of a cold psychotic evil criminal who has no problem with killing his victims if they threaten his life or his plans. Yet, there are two scenes in the films where Lynch, the cold-blooded killer, displays he has a heart or at least some feelings. First with his girlfriend, Lisa Soong (Anita Loo) whose son’s hip replacement operation Lynch pays for. The second incident is after kidnapping Toby, he tells her to remove her clothes. After stripping down to a bra and a half-slip, (he mails her outer garments to Kelly to prove he abducted her), Lynch begins to move toward her. Frightened she backs away, he keeps coming however, seeing how frightened she is he suddenly backs down, showing a momentary sign of sympathy, reducing the tension of a sexual attack. While this doesn’t make Lynch “a nice guy” it does provide some dimension to the role that otherwise would be lacking. Martin, of course, in a few years would become better know as Artumus Gordon in the 1ate 1960’a hit TV Western “The Wild Wild West.”
“Experiment in Terror” starts off as a sharp noir like thriller, all deep blacks and menacing lighting with extreme close ups of Lynch terrorizing Kelly, this sequence generates such an intense mood that manages to last throughout the rest of the film. While not a great film, Experiment in Terror” is certainly a worthy one to look out for.