“Her eyes are like gems / She’s an actress for Screen Gems / I love Lee Remick, she’s a darling.”
Every time I watch a film that stars Lee Remick, it’s hard to not think of the debut single by The Go-Betweens, which was a lovingly juvenile tribute to the actress. She starred in two films directed by Blake Edwards in 1962: Experiment in Terror and Days of Wine and Roses. She got her only Oscar nomination for Days of Wine and Roses, and probably could’ve won if it weren’t for Joan Crawford getting everyone to vote against each other to make sure Bette Davis didn’t win for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Anne Bancroft ended up with the statue, with Crawford accepting the Oscar on her behalf as she was on Broadway so couldn’t attend. I’m sure her no-show was the reason Crawford ended up campaigning for her.
These two Edwards films were atypical of the work he is better known for: modern audiences will be more familiar with his comedies, like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Party and Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther films. He had directed a film noir, Mister Cory, so at the time Experiment in Terror mustn’t have felt that out of character. But in retrospective, it seems a real oddity in his filmography as does Days of Wine and Roses‘ dark tale of alcoholism. Only a couple times in the next 30 years would Edwards leave the world of comedy.
Depending on how you look at it, Experiment in Terror is either an early example of neo-noir or a late film noir. I have come to the conclusion through my own extensive research into the subject that film noir dies on November 22nd 1963, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who is prominently seen on the wall of the FBI office in the film. It marks so many things in American culture: a loss of innocence and hope, the true birth of the ’60s and the death of the conformist ’50s, and so on. Neo-noir would be in full flow by ’64 and ’65, with films turning the genre on its head such as Bande à Part in France and Mickey One in the USA.
For the most part, Experiment in Terror is a relatively routine FBI-hunting-down-a-serial-killer film. Bank teller Kelly Sherwood (Remick) gets the scare of her life when a man hidden in the shadows tells her she must help him rob her bank or she and her sister will be killed. Despite being warned, she gets John Ripley (Glenn Ford) on the case. The whole thing is set in San Francisco, which of course is one of the most photogenic cities in the world. It all ends in a climax at the now defunct Candlestick Park, which is probably best known for being the location where The Beatles played their last full concert in 1966.
Edwards was helped enormously to get the shadowy black and white aesthetic he wanted by having Philip H. Lathrop as the director of photography. It starts with an extraordinary scene with the killer choking Lee Remick, in which you see nothing but the tiniest bit of his nose, the rest is entirely black. It’s a composition so effective that young filmmakers should study the film just for that scene. Lathrop was one of the masters—he worked on Touch of Evil, Lonely Are the Brave, Point Blank and Walter Hill’s first two films.
Overall, it’s a good B-movie with two strong performances from Remick and Glenn Ford. The film also has a strange connection to the work of David Lynch: Remick lives in the area of Twin Peaks, which is the highest point in San Francisco, but Lynch may have taken some inspiration from the title. The opening scene also has some visuals and dialogues that parallel the characters of Bob in Twin Peaks and Bobby Peru in Wild At Heart. The killer’s name in Experiment in Terror is Garland “Red” Lynch, David Lynch would later name a character in Twin Peaks Major Garland Briggs.
Powerhouse’s disc is a little less heavy on the special features than other recent releases, but it has a few. It starts off with an audio commentary with film critic Kim Morgan, an interview with actress Stefanie Powers and various TV spots and trailers, and is finished off with a booklet with a new essay Kim Morgan, and a new examination of the secret FBI files dedicated to screenwriters The Gordons by Jeff Billington.