THE PRICE OF FEAR
(director: Abner Biberman; screenwriter: Robert Tallman/from a story by Dick Irving; cinematographer: Irving Glassberg; editor: Ray Snyder; music: Joseph Gershenson; cast: Merle Oberon (Jessica Warren), Lex Barker (Dave Barrett), Charles Drake (Sgt. Pete Carroll), Gia Scala (Nina Ferranti), Ken Terrell (Emilio Ferranti, hit-and-run vic), Warren Stevens (Frankie Edare ), Phillip Pine (Vince Burton), Mary Field (Ruth McNab, wife of taxi driver), Dan Riss (Lt. Jim Walsh), Konstantin Shayne (Bolasny), Stafford Repp (Johnny McNab, Taxi driver), Tim Sullivan (Lou Belden); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Christie; Universal; 1956)
“Twisty and diverting damsel in distress minor noir film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Abner Biberman (“Gun For A Coward”/”Night Runner”/”Golden Mistress”) helms this twisty and diverting damsel in distress minor noir film, that features no sympathetic characters and depends too much on coincidences to be easily swallowed whole. But Merle Oberon shines against type as the femme fatale, as she goes slumming after starring in such classics as Wuthering Heights. The pulp film is based on a story by Dick Irving and is written by Robert Tallman.
Dog track owner Dave Barrett (Lex Barker, known as the Tarzan actor) is pissed his partner Lou Belden (Tim Sullivan) sold his shares to the night-club owning mobster Frankie Edare (Warren Stevens), who is muscling in on his operation, and pays a night-time visit to see him in his club to see if he can somehow squash the deal. When Dave spots Lou in the club, he threatens to kill him and is ejected. Dave grabs a taxi and is tailed by Vince Burton (Phillip Pine), who is on a mission arranged by the boss to bump off the pesty Dave. In the meantime, the successful investment officer Jessica Warren (Merle Oberon) is tipsy as she drives home after a dinner party and runs down an old man (Ken Terrell) crossing the street and flees the scene in panic. When Jessica realizes she must report the incident or face criminal charges, she stops to use a road-side pay phone to call the police to fess up to the truth. Meanwhile Dave, realizing he’s being followed, hops out of the cab and conveniently steals Jessica’s parked car. Jessica then reports her car stolen and frames Dave for the hit-and-run and grand theft auto. Frankie sees this as an opportunity to kill Tim and frame Dave for the murder and thereby own the entire track, as there are witnesses in the club who heard Dave threaten to kill his ex-partner.
Dave at first doesn’t know about the hit-and-run, but when he learns of it recognizes the double frame-up and confesses to the hit-and-run and auto theft, as the vic is still alive and is the easier charge to get out of. When Dave gets released on bail, he meets Jessica and they recognize each other as soul mates and begin a hot and heavy affair. The couple search for Dave’s alibi in the murder of his ex-partner,, the taxi driver (Stafford Repp). But the conniving Frankie figures out what really happened and starts blackmailing Jessica. When the traffic vic dies, his enraged daughter (Gia Scala) threatens to kill Dave. But when the cabbie suddenly wants to get it off his chest and agrees to tell the truth and clear Dave, the vic’s daughter realizes Dave is innocent and contacts the police.
The weak Jessica can’t go through with the lies any more and flees by train, where she’s pursued by Dave and he’s pursued by Sgt. Pete Carroll (Charles Drake), his old friend, as Jessica despite her romantic feelings for Dave is still concerned with not taking any blame for the hit-and-run and has made a Satanic bargain with Frankie to clear things up for herself even if it means selling out Dave.
The powerful conclusion, resulting in the pursuit of justice through violent means, is unpredictable and chilling, giving the amoral noir film its darkness and cynicism.
REVIEWED ON 9/12/2014 GRADE: B