Monday, July 29, 2013

Deadliest Weapon Of All

Except for the swamp-set car chase that rips through its first act, 1972's FEAR IS THE KEY is faithful to the Alistair MacLean novel that inspired it. But, oh, what a car chase.

Stunt pros Carey Loftin (DUEL) and Joie Chitwood (MR. NO LEGS) put the streets of Louisiana through one of the most underrated action sequences of the 1970s. Not just the streets, but the swamps and the beaches and even a strange country road made from wooden flats too. Likely added to the film only to capitalize on star Barry Newman’s recent turn in VANISHING POINT, the chase is its only major setpiece, as screenwriter Robert Carrington’s script settles into a cerebral groove that climaxes in one of the quieter—but no less effective—examples in the thriller genre.

Without giving much away, the chase is an integral (if not entirely plausible) part of a con by John Talbot (Newman), first seen listening over a shortwave radio to his family dying in a plane crash. Three years later, he’s arrested in a small town for brawling, but escapes custody, shoots a cop, and takes beautiful socialist Sarah Ruthven (Suzy Kendall, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) hostage. He eludes police capture (in the afore-mentioned chase), but is caught and pummeled by crooked ex-cop Jablonsky (Dolph Sweet), who turns Talbot over to Vyland (the great John Vernon), a business associate of Sarah’s father.

It doesn’t take long to realize Vyland has his own plans for Talbot that don’t involve turning him over to the cops, and the first of the film’s many plot surprises occurs around that time as well. Michael Tuchner, directing his second feature (after VILLAIN), handles suspense like a pro and even manages a few visual witticisms (starting a slow pan on Newman that ends on Newman entering the shot from the other end is cute). Ben Kingsley (GANDHI)—with hair—makes his film debut as Vyland’s pensive hitman.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I've always had a soft spot for this one Marty, not least for its great score by Roy Budd, at that point still riding high from his success with GET CARTER - a great little thriller with studio shooting done in the UK (hence the appearances of Mr Kingsley andMs Kendall) and some great model shots by James Bond genius Derek Meddings.

Marty McKee said...

No one would ever remake this today, because of its action-free yet suspenseful climax. Not all MacLean adaptations would stick this closely to the novel.

Still, by the way, waiting for a film version of GOODBYE CALIFORNIA.

Jeff Mclachlan said...

The definition of a "hold-your-breath" climax.

Someone needs to cast Barry Newman in a Fast And Furious movie. He was good in his small part in The Limey.