Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cry Terror! (1958)


Cry Terror! (1958) has a plot so taut with tension that I watched it wide-eyed at the edge of my seat in wonder and a bit of terror. Based on an original story by director Andrew L. Stone, this fantastic Film Noir from MGM benefits from a brilliant cast, a fast-moving storyline, great editing, excellent build up of suspense and a MacGuffin. A term made famous by director Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is something in the story that drives the characters to action. What's interesting about a MacGuffin it's only purpose is to drive the plot but ends up being of little importance in the overall scheme of the story. For Cry Terror! the MacGuffin is a bomb on a airplane with the threat to plant more. The real story however is about the kidnapping of the bomb's inventor and his family by terrorists.

Paul Hoglin (Rod Steiger) hires his old army buddy Jim Nolner (James Mason) to develop a bomb.
Jim thought he was working on a government project. Much to his surprise Paul is the head of a terrorist group and the bomb winds up in a commercial airplane. At first no one is hurt but the threat mobilizes FBI into action. Just as Jim was about to report his friend to the FBI, Paul shows up to the Nolner home and kidnaps Jim, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and their young daughter.  The kidnapping gives the terrorists time to put their plan into action which includes extorting the FBI for $50,000 which Joan must pick up and deliver to them.

Paul's terrorist group is made up of a bunch of misfit characters including Neville Brand as the Benzadrine addicted Steve, Angie Dickinson as Paul's girlfriend Eileen and Jack Klugman as Vince the thug. The FBI team led by Kenneth Tobey as Agent Frank Cole still believe Jim was part of this original group of terrorist. Once they learn that Jim was merely a pawn in the terrorist group's game they work to help save the kidnapped family. Little do Paul Hoglin and his co-horts know that they messed with the wrong family. The Nolners are never complacent and constantly scheme to fight back against the terrorists and protect their young daughter.

James Mason gets top billing but the two real stars of this movie are Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens who both deliver powerful performances. Steiger is truly terrifying and delivers a powerful yet nuanced performance as the lead villain. Stevens plays Mason's wife and while she is in a constant state of terror, she rises above being just a victim and proves to be a strong character. She fights tooth and nail to protect her family and never allows herself to be paralyzed with fear. The Nolners are a true power couple. When they're first kidnapped, the terrorists threaten to separate them from their daughter. This is simply unacceptable to the parents. They decide to walk out the door together to their certain death than to bear a separation. Such a move forces the terrorists to regroup and modify their plans. This is the first of many brave acts.

Steiger and Stevens dominate the film but James Mason has his moments to shine. There is a wonderful scene when Mason makes a daring escape through an elevator shaft.

Jack Klugman, Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson in Cry Terror! (1958)


I'm a big fan of Angie Dickinson and Jack Klugman so I was delighted to see them both in this film. Neither of them though are truly effective as villains but Neville Brand makes up for it in spades. Brand's Steve is a serial rapist and murderer and we fear for Joan (Stevens) when they are left together. Those scenes are unsettling and add to the growing tension in the film.

Inger Stevens and Neville Brand


A few points in the film, the inner monologue of Joan (Inger Stevens) or Jim (James Mason) takes over as narrator. In most movies this sort of narration is not always effective. In this film it worked beautifully. Their thought processes help audiences understand their fear and gave us insight into their scheming.

The film was shot on location in New York City and Hoboken, NJ. There is an extended sequence where Stevens travels from NYC to NJ to deliver money and there are lots of great views of the drive. Rod Steiger and Inger Stevens suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when they filmed a scene in a real subway tunnel. They were given oxygen and suicidal Inger Stevens at first refused the help because she wanted to die. Stevens committed suicide 12 years later at the age of 35.

Provocative and effective and with excellent pacing, Cry Terror! (1958) is a must-see for Film Noir fans.


Cry Terror! (1958) is an MGM film available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me this title for review!

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