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The Night Holds Terror doesn't have a whole lot going for it except for
tension but maybe that's enough. Like Detour (which may be a distant
ancestor), it's the story of how a whim, a twist of fate, can turn lives
upside down. Driving home from his job at Edwards Air Force Base, Jack
Kelly picks up a hitch-hiker (Vince Edwards) who pulls a gun on him. The
rest of Edwards' gang (John Cassavettes and David Gross) join up, but spare
Kelly's life when he has only 10 bucks on him. Deciding that trading in his
car for cash is a better deal, they take over Kelly's knotty-pine home he
has a wife (Hildy Parks) and two kids until the following
From then on in it's a standard family-held-hostage suspenser, with Edwards putting the moves on the wife and the inevitable sorting out of the pecking order among the gang members. When they depart next morning, taking Kelly along for insurance, Parks disobeys orders and calls the police. But will the police locate the gang before they kill Kelly?
His five years of glory as Ben Casey, M.D. still down the road, Edwards, smoldering and stretching the seams of his T-shirt, makes the strongest impression in the movie maybe the only impression. Cassavettes (occasionally looking like Jerry Lewis at about the same time) delivers an unremarkable performance, and the rest of the cast is no more than passable. Photography is the flat, 50s style until the end, when some night shots in driving rain add atmosphere. The story unfolds in the semi-documentary style common to its times, complete with voice-over narration (first by Kelly, then by an anonymous authority figure).
The Night Holds Terror gets compared frequently to The Desperate Hours, a better production but a stagier one as well. For all its low-budget look and low-price acting, the movie retains some authenticity. At times it almost seems like cinema-verité like those edgy little films Cassavettes himself would soon be making.
THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR is an interesting thriller/film noir entry for
various reasons. Yes, it bears a strong similarity to THE DESPERATE
HOURS, but that's because both were inspired by the same true (and
sensational) story. Proving which one went into production first might
be difficult. But really, it doesn't matter, because unlike the
Hollywood sheen of THE DESPERATE HOURS, this odd little film has many
gritty aspects and colorings and transcends its low budget.
John Cassavetes is always great to watch, even in a lesser picture. Here, while he rarely truly shines, he manages to keep tightly wound like a coiled spring, with his menacing glare and occasional flashes of violence. Vince Edwards is actually nowhere near as good here as he was playing similar hoods in MURDER BY CONTRACT, CITY OF FEAR and THE KILLING, though it's an acceptably menacing performance.
What really makes THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR is a constant reliance on real locations. I couldn't spot one studio set in the entire picture; every interior seems to be in a real place (Cassavetes' modern hilltop home and the Courtiers' kitchy suburban one, police stations, telephone switching centers, the Mojave desert, etc.). There is even one standout sequence where the captors' car careens through the desert, photographed by what appears to be a cameraman barely holding onto the hood of the car. No rear screen here, and this is several years before the famed from-the-hood Venice driving sequence in TOUCH OF EVIL.
And the pace of the picture is practically amphetamine-charged. If the camera isn't moving, the cast always is, with constant dialogue shot through with tension. This is a strong, underrated thriller, and while hardly a perfect masterpiece, it's definitely superior to stagier hostage dramas of the period and well worth tracking down.
These types of films seemed to be quite common in the 1950s. Drivers
the foolish mistake of picking up the worst possible type of
criminal. One who might take him hostage or kill him at any moment. A very
real fear of the possible.
This film feels like a mix of THE HITCH-HIKER and THE DESPERATE HOURS but isn't quite on par with either. Unlike those, this feels like a Made For TV film. The Narration is very much a negative and will probably make many laugh due to its dire seriousness.
But the characters in this film are well-played and certainly entertaining enough to make this film an enjoyable ride. Especially good are Hildy Parks as the terrorized wife who won't stand for it and Jack Kelly as her husband who is thinking only of his family's welfare. John Cassavetes is also good in his role as the mastermind criminal. There's some terrific cinematography in the film featuring scenes out in the desert and the climatic ending in the rain.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When husband and father Jack Kelly is on the road, he is stopped by a supposed stranded motorist (John Cassavettes) who instantly places a gun to Kelly's head and plans to leave him dead in the desert to take his car. Desperate to save his life for the sake of his family, Kelly promises to get him cash, and Cassavettes and his co-horts (Vince Edwards and David Cross) take over their home. This is a taunt and tense film noir that grasps you from the very beginning and doesn't let go. What seems to be heading down a familiar street turns out to be intriguing once the pace gets moving. Kelly and his wife (Hildy Parks) are appropriately frightened, while there are multi-dimensional portraits given to each of the thugs. There are vulnerabilities and humanities in some of them that you don't see in most gangster thrillers, so obviously the script writer took great pains to add more detail to their characterizations. There are also some wonderful twists and turns that get the viewer convinced that the villains are about to get their dues when something else happens to take it down a different path. This makes it more exciting and as more of the law becomes involved, so does the media, which makes the tension even worse. While not yet released in Columbia's film noir collection, this is definitely one that should be. It is one of their better later film noirs.
Gritty little suspenser that holds interest throughout. Writer-director
Andrew Stone's and wife Virginia's reputation rests on a
documentary-style approach to film-making. Making a movie about people
on board a sinking ship?-- then sink an actual ship, The Last Voyage
(1958). I believe it was Andrew Sarris who observed that it was a good
thing they never made a film about the end of the world!
There's a lot of that documentary approach in this low-budgeter taken from an actual kidnapping case of the period. Kidnapping was much in the news in 1953 with the sensational abduction for ransom of little Bobby Greenlease, of Kansas City, I believe. And, of course, then as now, screen-writers love to chase the headlines of the day. So it's no surprise that several of these plot-lines turned up at about the same time, including the rather eerie Big House, USA (1955).
Here the screenplay recreates the abduction of the offspring of a wealthy LA-area family, Gene Couture. What makes the movie work is the inspired casting (probably a happy accident) that brings together three fast-rising young actors-- a sullen Vince Edwards, a moody John Cassavetes, and an appealing Jack Kelly as the victim. You really get the feeling from the former two-- who look edgy and act even edgier-- that anything can happen at any time. Together as the lead abductors, they're little short of the proverbial dynamite. When they take Kelly into the desert, you get the feeling he's a dead duck for sure.
Then too, the Stone's insistence on real suburban locations lends the proceedings a look and feel different from the usual. The procedural part gets kind of draggy as the cops enter the case and was likely inspired by the police mega-hit of the day, Dragnet. But at least it's consistent with the over-all documentary tone. Some buffs see the movie as noir. I don't, taking it instead as a particularly effective example of the "home invasion" genre that was also popular at the time. But however you cut it, this is still a darn good little 90 minute nail-biter.
The Night Holds Terror (1955)
There is no way to simply watch this film as a straight drama and not see all the holes in it. But there is also no way to miss the remarkable strengths, from a true-crime story with chilling consequences to an early look at several actors who would later have huge careers.
Foremost of these for film fans is John Cassavetes, who made lots of films and t.v. appearances in the 1950s before his first directorial success in 1959 (with "Shadows"). Not to be confused with the son, born that year. Cassavetes later made the intense "Woman under the Influence" and appeared in "Rosemary's Baby," and here he is in his youth playing a common thug in a common movie. And perhaps stealing the show even though his part is intermittent.
Vince Edwards of course later became the one and only Ben Casey, televisions premier doctor for years. He's creepy here and not a great talent. The main "good" guy and victim here is a small time actor, Jack Kelly, and he's less than convincing though he's supposed to play a regular guy caught up in a criminal nightmare. Even more unconvincing, I suppose, is his wife, though her hysteria and overacting is probably not so far off the mark. The rest of the cast is reasonable, and functional.
So the story rules. It's a cruel, detailed, and apparently accurate tale of innocently picking up a hitchhiker and having it all go wrong. Some police procedures are detailed, especially phone tapping and tracing calls the old way, wire by wire. Fascinating side stuff.
The director and writer and producer and etc is Andrew Stone, who made a number of very low budget films like this, typically filmed on location and using little known actors. His wife Virginia teamed up with him on these, and they are one of the many small level results of the breakup of Hollywood and the rise of television in the 1950s, creating crisis and opportunity equally. His second to last film is probably his biggest, "Song of Norway" in 1970.
"The Night Holds Terror" is what it is, straight shooting and fairly horrifying, but held back by some common issues of acting and directing.
"The Night Holds Terror" is a lower budget version of "The Desperate
Hours"--the victims are working class (or lower middle?), but the
perpetrators are as slimy as the big budget boys. Diminutive John Cassavetes
is pretty unnerving as the brains and Vince Edwards does a good job as the
'dumb' crook type.
The victim leads are Jack Kelly [later on TV "Maverick", he is fine] And Hildy Parks as the wife--she is the big surprise: a very capable actress who must stand up to the thugs, and does she ever, right from the start---Parks ended up as a panelist on "To Tell the Truth"
The film has some very intense moments for 1955 and is nicely filmed as well, with good use of desert locations that recall monster movies of the era like "Tarantula" or "Them".
Saw "The Nite Holds Terror" in 1956. Enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again, but it was showing for just 2 or 3 days in my small home town. I don't recall it ever coming to nearby towns or being listed on tv and wondered why. Perhaps because the Humphrey Bogart version called "The Desperate Hours" garnered a larger following. Did not see the Bogart version until June 2002 and even after 40 years I see the remarkable similarities. I think the pictures were equally as good. Thank you.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Some Spoilers) It's when electronic engineer Gene Courtire, Jack
Kelly, casually gave hitchhiker Victor Gosset, Vince Edwards, a lift
his world turned upside-down. With the not too alert Gosset mistaking
Courtier's Mercury for a Lincoln Continental, in him thinking by
driving an expensive car like that Courtier is loaded, everything
started to go downhill for Gosset and his fellow hoods Robert Batsford,
John Cassavetes, and Luther Logan, David Cross.
Not only didn't Courtier have the big bucks that the trio of hoods were looking for but by kidnapping, a capital crime, him and later his wife Doris, Hildy Parks, they now face the San Quentin gas chamber if their caught: Which according to FBI statistics is in kidnappers getting caught is something like 99.9 % of the time. Instead of playing it safe and dropping the entire matter the thee hoodlums, two wanted by the police for murder, keep running with the ball, or kidnapping, making things even more worse for themselves then they already are.
Both Gosset & Batsford who at first were more then willing to murder Courtire if he as much as looked at them later let the guy and his wife live even after in a number of incidents they were attacked and assaulted by the battling couple! And in one case almost killed by one, Gene Courtier, of them! All the retaliation that came for the murderous duo was Courtier just getting belted to the ground by an enraged, whom he earlier almost killed, Gosset when he wasn't looking.
The film went on and on with the three stooges, Gosset Batsford & Logan, screwing up at every turn giving the police and FBI all the time they needed to finally capture them. It was Logan who came up with the "bright" idea to get Courtier's rich businessman dad, Stanley Andrews, to pay a $200,000.00 ransom to get his son back. By then Mrs Courtier was for some unexplained reason released by the kidnappers together with her two children making the kidnappers chances of getting away with their half baked crime even more difficult then it already was!
***SPOILERS*** Still thinking that he's got all the winning cards in the deck the head kidnapper Bastford, looking like he's Jerry Lewis' evil twin brother, demanded that the ransom money be delivered to him and his boys, Gosset & Logan, within the hour or Gene Courtier is history. The brainless jerk didn't realized that he was kept on the phone for something like 15 minutes so his whereabouts could be traced by the police. And sure enough just as both Bastford and Gosset, by then fellow kidnapper Logan was completely out of the picture, were waiting for the big payoff they were surrounded by 187 police and FBI units, a record in California crime history, before they could even realize just how ridicules their perfect plan or crime really was!
Enjoyed this 1955 film with great actors like Vince Edwards,( Victor Gosset) and John Cassavetes, (Robert Batsford) who were just starting their careers. In this picture Jack Kelly,(Gene Courtier) makes a very bad mistake and picks up a hitchhiker in the desert and Victor Gosset commanders his car and wants him to sell it for money and then meets up with Robert Batsford who is the boss of the kidnapping and then they decide to go to Gene Courtier home and hold his wife, Doris Courtier,(Hildy Parks) and two children hostage in their own home. Victor Gosset is crazy about women and can't seem to keep his hands off Doris Courtier and starts all kinds of problems with her husband. There is very high tension through out the entire picture and it was a great film for 1955. Enjoy
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