NIGHT HOLDS TERROR, THE
(director/writer: Andrew L. Stone; cinematographer: Fred Jackman; editor: Virginia Stone; music: Lucien Calliet; cast: Jack Kelly (Gene Courtier), Hildy Parks (Doris Courtier), Vince Edwards (Victor Gosset), John Cassavetes (Robert Batsford), David Cross (Luther Logan), Edward Marr (Captain Cole), Jack Kruschen (Detective Pope), Joel Marston (Reporter ), Jonathan Hale (Bob Henderson), Nancy Zane (Deborah), Charles Herbert (Steven Courtier), Nancy Zane (Debby Courtier), Barney Phillips (Stranske), Joyce McCluskey (Phyllis Harrison); Runtime: 84; Columbia Pictures; 1955)
“It is an intelligent thriller, where a desperate family is held captive by three vicious criminals.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
“The Night Holds Terror” is a lively b & w film noir. It’s told in a semi-documentary style with a voiceover and is based on actual events, only some minor details have been changed. The film relates a 1954 kidnapping case involving Leonard Moskowitz with the fictional case in the film. It is an intelligent thriller, where a desperate family is held captive by three vicious criminals.
Gene Courtier (Jack Kelly) couldn’t be happier; he has a good factory job near Fort Edwards Air Force base in Lancaster, California, a wonderful wife in Doris (Hildy Parks–later became an influential TV and theatrical producer) and two lovely young children, Debby and Steven. Driving home from shopping across the desolate Mojave desert in his new Mercury, he makes an impulsive decision to give a ride to a hitchhiker. That momentary lapse in judgment turns out to be a big mistake. The hitchhiker, the smooth talking Victor Gosset (Vince Edwards), pulls a gun on him and takes the ten dollars in his wallet. He then forces him to drive to an isolated spot off the main desert road and his two confederates the nasty gang leader, Robert Batsford (John Cassavetes), and the more passive and less experienced, Luther Logan (David Cross), follow them in their car. Batsford threatens to kill him, but the victim manages to talk them into selling his car to get money. After selling the vehicle back to his dealer for $2,000 in cash, the trio holes up in Courtier’s house for the night as they wait for the payment to be completed by morning.
Things get edgy as one policeman friend of the family is brushed off as he visits their home, and Victor tries to seduce the wife but is slugged by Gene and finally stopped by Batsford. Gene tries to overtake Victor when he thinks he has fallen asleep while on guard duty, but is unsuccessful. By morning things become more desperate as the money hungry gang, realizes that Gene’s dad is a businessman with some dough. They take Gene in their car as a hostage and tell his wife if she calls the police they will kill him, that she should do nothing until they call her.
Soon they come up with the bright idea of holding him for $200,000 ransom, as Gene’s ordered to have his family get in touch with his rich dad to raise the dough. Finally, their neighbor, Phyllis, who recognizes something is wrong convinces her to call the police. They stop the APB from going out just in the nick of time, as Gene during a phone call tells about the kidnapper’s police radio in their car.
The tension builds as the FBI taps the Courtier’s phone. The feds believe the only chance of success, is if they can trace the kidnapper’s call. Meanwhile Gene schemes to escape, as the frightened Luther is scared of the serious nature of the crime and tries to help but is too weak to be of assistance. Through the efforts of the law enforcers and the phone company and the smarts displayed by the hostage and his family, this cat-and-mouse game is played out.
Andrew L. Stone does a fine job of building on the tension, while his editor wife Virginia magnifies the tension by cross-cutting between the responses of the lawmen and how the phone company officials actually trace a call. This film was similar in theme to Bogart’s earlier released 1955 “The Desperate Hours,” but was more noirish. Stone takes it for granted that this fine middle-class family is in peril from those dark forces from the noir underworld that want to take from them what they could never have. There was nothing about it that was over-the-edge, even though the criminals were led by a sociopath. Everyone seemed to be a real person, expressing real emotions. This type of crime film has been imitated many times, but few have caught its gripping nature.
REVIEWED ON 8/13/2002 GRADE: B