Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Night Holds Terror

The latest in the long backlog of movies on my DVR that I recent!y got around to watching is a Noir Alley entry, The Night Holds Terror.

Based on a true story and even using the real names of the victims, the movie tells the story of Gene Courtier (Jack Kelly), a civilian worker at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, who lives with his wife Doris (Hildy Parks) and their two children. One day as he's returning home from work, Gene makes the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker, Victor Gosset (Vince Edwards). What Gene doesn't know is that Victor is a criminal, who pulls a gun on Gene and brings him to a deserted area where he has his two partners in crime waiting for him. Robert Batsford (John Cassavetes) is the leader of the group, while Luther Logan (David Cross) seems to be the sort of person who got roped in by somebody charismatic and doesn't really like getting in trouble. The three men plan to take Gene's cash, but he's got almost none on him, leading the guys to think about killing him.

Gene, obviously not wanting to die, comes up with a plan. He's got a nice late-model car worth a cool $2,000, and the three crooks can turn that in for cash. Amazingly, they eventually take Gene up on that offer, despite the fact that it will bring them into contact with people who will see them with Gene. Gene, for his part, sees this as a chance to escape. But things go wrong for both Gene and the criminals, with Gene not being able to escape and the criminals not being able to get their hands on the money until the next day. So they take Gene back to the house and hold the entire family hostage.

At this point, the movie becomes a bit of a standard family hostage movie, although, to be fair, there's only so much you can do with the idea of invading somebody's house and holding the family hostage. As implied above, the three criminals have differing personalities: Robert the brutal leader; Victor thinking sexually about Doris; and Luther being a bit reluctant about the whole thing. So naturally, Doris and Gene think they might be able to play the criminals off of each other. Also amazingly, the criminals show up on the one day where absolutely everybody wants to see the Courtiers, so there's the trop of a plot point about how the criminals are going to be able to keep outsiders from finding out what's going on.

Gene is able to sell the car back to the dealer on behalf of the criminals, but they learn that Gene's got a very wealthy businessman father. So they decide to take him elsewhere and hold him for ransom. Of course, this also gives Doris a chance to get the police involved, and when the criminals call with the ransom information, the police try to trace the call....

The Night Holds Terror is an interesting movie in that it was treated as a docudrama, being based after all on a real incident. Directed by Andrew Stone and produced by him and his wife Virginia, the movie tries to use the real locations as much as possible; this combined with the Stones' lower budgets, gives the movie a look of gritty realism, or at least as gritty as the burgeoning southern California of the 1950s could get. It's not quite as gritty as, say, the Bronx scenes of the Stones' later Cry Terror!, but it'll do.

John Cassavetes was right at the beginning of his career but already does well, as does Vince Edwards. Everybody else is competent if not quite so memorable. But all in all the movie works, and is more than worth a watch.

No comments: