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Cry Terror!


Like the man says, ‘It’s a dilly.’

Rod Lott August 26th, 2011

From 1958, “Cry Terror!” wastes no time, doing its best to earn that exclamation point. Even as the opening credits are still going, two men talking spell out practically the entire plot:

cryterror!

Man 1: "Well, suddenly, we've got a problem on our hands, and it's a dilly: the prankster."

Man 2: "Oh, no, not another one."

Man 1: "The fifth character to pull this sort of stunt in the last 60 days alone."

Man 2: "Used to be the joker who turned in the phony fire alarms. The new gimmick's telling airlines there's a bomb aboard."

He’s referring to a letter the airline offices have just received — an extortion letter demanding $500,000 or they’ll blow up Flight 74. On the Chicago-to-New-York flight, they’ve planted a "time bomb" made with RDX explosive that "look(s) like cookie dough."

Hearing the reports, family man Jim (James Mason) freaks out, because he was tricked into making it by his old Army buddy, Paul (Rod Steiger), who’s the terrorist who wrote the letter, demanding the cash, and now kidnapping Jim’s wife, Joan (Inger Stevens), and child to force him to help. Well, Jack Klugman puts some heat on the family, too: "Ever seen one of these before? It's call a shiv. Sharp." (Among Paul’s gang: an unrecognizable Angie Dickinson, because she’s a brunette.)

Jim and the Mrs. are both separated from the kid and made to participate actively in each step of Paul’s intricate  plot. Joan’s babysat a good portion of the time by a henchman hopped up on “bennies” and getting quite handsy and horny. As they carry out Paul’s bidding, we hear their thoughts as narration, thereby passing the anxiety of the ticking seconds directly to the viewer.

With the premise of “Suddenly,” the stakes of “Fail-Safe,” the familiar danger of “The Desperate Hours” and the threat of rape of “Cape Fear” hanging over each frame, “Cry Terror!” resides in damned good company of black-and-white suspensers. As with the jump-the-gate beginning, it also doesn’t let up at the end; there’s no comforting epilogue, just a final act of tragedy and a title card. Annnnd breathe. —Rod Lott

 
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