Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 18, 2016
Angie Dickinson in 1958
In Cry Terror! Dickinson plays the no nonsense Eileen Kelly, a dangerous dame who plants a bomb on a plane as part of a deadly extortion scheme mastermind by Paul Hoplin (Rod Steiger). A weapon-wielding thug (Jack Klugman) and pill-popping rapist (Neville Brand) comprise the rest of this terror inflicting goon squad who frame an innocent man named Jim Molar (James Mason) for their crimes. When their plans start to unravel, they kidnap Molar’s young daughter (Terry Ann Ross) and wife (Inger Stevens), forcing them to take-part in their nefarious plans. Amid all the chaos, a crack team of FBI investigators (Kenneth Tobey, Barney Phillips & Jack Kruschen) is called in to help put the extortion gang behind bars.
This unusual amalgam of Suburban and Urban Noir takes place in cherry-looking residential neighborhoods and on the gritty streets of New York. Threats seem to come out of nowhere suggesting a world that is secretly unraveling under a facade of domesticity as the film zigzags from one location and crazy plot device to the next merging elements of police procedurals and crime thrillers at a dizzying pace. Much of Cry Terror! was filmed on location using natural light giving it the appearance of a newsreel at times and the voice-over narration adds to the lived-in quality of the production.
Frustrated critics bemoaned the film when it was originally released but today the rat-a-tat-tat tempo and stark non-nonsense direction seem very modern. The rapid editing and loosely compiled script does neglect character construction in favor of building suspense but the film can be enjoyed as a sort of template for current action films that throw everything at the audience in an attempt to see what sticks.
Angie Dickinson still had her original dark locks in 1958 and maintains a feline mystique throughout Cry Terror! that suggests she could curl up in your lap with a seductive purr or claw your eyes out if you make a wrong move. Her character resides in a swanky penthouse apartment with its own wet bar and a picturesque view of Queens from the 14th floor balcony. She carries a razor sharp knife that she calls a ‘shiv’ and when the FBI finally arrives to put the criminals in jail, it’s Dickinson’s character who picks up a gun and fires the first shot at the law. She’s a bad girl through and through and if the film has one serious fault, it’s that viewers are left wanting more of Angie. She doesn’t get much screen time but she bites and scratches her way through the minimal dialogue leaving a vital impression in a film that could have and should have demanded more from her.
The film is a Virginia and Andrew Stone Production and this creative husband and wife team directed, wrote, edited and produced a series of high-impact low-budget independent thrillers in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the joint-titles they worked on include Confidence Girl (1952), The Night Holds Terror (1955), The Decks Ran Red (1958), The Last Voyage (1960) , Ring of Fire (1961) and the Oscar nominated Julie (1956) starring Doris Day as a woman tormented by her insanely jealous husband (Louis Jourdan). The filmmaking couple were true crime aficionados who kept police radios at home and their low cost, no nonsense approach to making movies didn’t endear them to many Hollywood actors who found them challenging to work with. The Stones refused to coddle their stars and demanded as much realism as possible, which could make for a difficult and demanding shoot. Despite this, James Mason was not deterred and worked with them on The Decks Ran Red after making Cry Terror!, which was distributed by MGM.
Before teaming up with his wife to make some exceptional independent thrillers, Andrew Stone worked within the Hollywood studio system on a some bigger budget films including the black musical Stormy Weather (1949). Stormy Weather may seem like a world apart from Cry Terror! and in many ways it is however, both films suggest a desire to break away from convention and present the world as a complex place with many untold stories waiting to emerge from the shadows. Stormy Weather provided exceptional black artists such as Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Bill Robinson, Fats Waller and the Nicholas Brothers with some of their best screen moments and if you enjoy Stone’s Cry Terror! you can catch the director’s Stormy Weather airing on TCM next month on September 25.
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