Cry Terror! (1958)

Cry Terror! (1958) is an end-of-film-noir cycle home-invasion paranoia thriller, starring James Mason, Rod Steiger, Inger Stevens and Angie Dickinson.

There is terror to be cried about in the air too, as well as the home, as Cry Terror! is one of the first films to have a good look at airline security. As the American world and all its dreams came together in the 1950s, so the seams of those dreams split, and out oozed film noir.

Everything that remains unspeakable as an aspect of the all-American dream, can be found in film noir.

So as the film noir cycle ends, there are a couple of new appearances on the psychological landscape of the USA. One is the threat of nuclear war, as began its life in the film noir favourites at the end of that decade, for which see Kiss Me Deadly (1955) for more.

Another may be the threat of teenage rebellion, which picked up speed in this decade; as did the threat of terrorism.

The smarts of this noir are then found in bringing that threat home, in the form of the intense and possible crazy character of Paul Hoplin (Rod Steiger) who is the mastermind of a crime to collect a $500,000 ransom, by threatening to use an explosive device that Jim Molner (James Mason) designed.

The threats of bombs in the sky are gawped at by authorities too amazed at the idea to act. The very notion of aviation bombing was foreign to a world that had just been at war, and yet the 1950s was the decade when for reasons of criminal madness in many cases, these events began to occur.

James Mason and the television in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Tellingly, the threat of this newfound terror is delivered through the television, something else that like the classics of home invasion film noir, comes right into your home from wild places unknown, and appears unstoppable, unpredictable and completely compelling. 

Terrorism, as captured in the title of Cry Terror, was as far as the public were concerned, a seemingly new threat for an era which coupled both prosperity and domestic tranquillity, with new kinds of threats, such as those posed by psychopaths, the government, some communists and even homosexuals.

Panic in suburbia. James Mason and Inger Stevens face Rod Steiger in
Cry Terror! (1958)

The mad mastermind played by Rod Steiger is an oppressive and frightening modern man, a kind of Nietzschean-style combination of hood and thinker.

Rod Steiger as the philosopher criminal, the new terrorist in
Cry Terror! (1958)

James Mason on the other hand plays quite a softie, and is acting as best he can the hopeless male, domesticated both by the home and his society.

Sweating Steiger and his gang invade the family home in Americana and hold Molner, his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) and young daughter Patty (Terry Ann Ross) hostage in their house in Riverdale, Bronx. The scene-setting here is not in character with classic film noir, but this is 1958, and cinematography seems to be less concerned with framing the psychological aspects of a scene, but with capturing action perhaps in more of a televisual style. 

No angles, no shadows, later classic film noir
Cry Terror! (1958)

The threat is instead implicit in the invasion of the newly derived and sacred space of the family home, which is generally portrayed as  a place of light and freedom. What is not in any way normal for film noir in 1958, is the plan itself, and the acts of terrorism behind it.

It is certainly true that the gang in Cry Terror! has some of the qualities of an ordinary criminal gang, but Rod Steiger plays no normal villain here. His plan in fact is massively cunning in 1958, in a world in which nobody would dare try and threaten an aeroplane with bombs. And yet this is the set up, and the deadly miracle of these small bombs that can be the size - wait for it - of a cigarette carton!

Home invasion film noir
Cry Terror! (1958)

FBI agents gather in New York with representatives of an airline. Hoplin has been sending anonymous notes, suggesting that a bomb will be planted on an aircraft. Joan Molner is forced to go alone to collect the ransom payment, while Hoplin's accomplices, a woman named Kelly (Angie Dickinson) and a man named Vince (Jack Klugman), watch her husband and child in a Brooklyn penthouse apartment. These gang members are fairly recognisable criminal types, presented however in 1958 with less of the flair of the decade before, less of the humour, and so consequently less interestingly somehow.

Angie Dickinson, despite this, likely makes this movie. She plays a super floozy villain, who likes to know where the bar is, and loves her mastermind lover so much that she plants a bomb for him. The procedural aspects of Cry Terror! follow the detection around her, and create the race to the end, as the police and authorities track down, in a typically serious and earnest manner,  the perpetrators of this threat.

Neville Brand in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Jack Klugman in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Angie Dickinson in
Cry Terror (1958)

Joan barely makes it back by the gang's deadline in time to prevent her husband's death. She is left alone with an ex-con, Steve (Neville Brand), who has a history of sexual assaults on women. Forced to defend herself, she kills Steve with a shard of glass.

Neville Brand goes bold as he usually does, and uses his hulking frame to great effect here; it is simply not bad enough to be a villainous kidnapper and hostage taker, he is also a sexual molester, acted out to great effect, and quite terrifying when left alone with his sorry victim, played to her vulnerable best by a quite slight Inger Stevens.

Neville Brand also stands for drug abuse in Cry Terror! involving us in an open discussion of Benzedrine abuse, openly witnessed here for mature 1958 audiences only. It's another sign that things are breaking down, because he is also a walking statement regarding the failure of the penal system. Great combinations in drama such as this were being made real in the later 1950s, but not with the fantastical and almost arms' length treatment of earlier film noir.

Cry Terror! has a few more tricks up its sleeve yet; the first of these being the gang's hideout, which is a penthouse flat in Greenwich Village. Here they hold captive the rather flaccid James Mason, who does make a heroic and thrilling escape down and then up a lift shaft. This is memorably filmed; as is the denouement scenes.

These take place in the final set piece action scenes which make the effort of going underground, and carrying out a final and bewildering chase down on the rails of the New York subway. This was increasingly popular filming location for film noir; Fritz Lang's While The City Sleeps (1956) also ends with a New York subway chase, even though the later was shot on a West Coast subway.

There have been a few other memorable chases down those rails in the pictures, and like most of them, this one ends as they all must; with the mortal threats of the underground being made real. 

The FBI display a dogged effectiveness in Cry Terror! (1958), possibly to reinforce the message that nobody should be crying Terrorism! at all. 

Don't be a sexual abuser! Neville Brand and Rod Steiger in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Rod Steiger, Nietzschean villain in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Angie Dickinson, star of the show in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Jack Klugman, James Mason and Angie Dickinson
Cry Terror! (1958)

Inger Stevens trapped with Neville Brand in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Using the dental records of Kelly, the FBI find the hideout in Greenwich Village. It's remarkable that within all the terrorism, family dynamic, psychopathic hubris, violence and threat, there is a dependable stream of police procedural in Cry Terror! which helps lead to safe conclusion. However, seeing the FBI at work is important given the range and severity of crimes. 

When the authorities get to the penthouse, however, James Mason has already escaped. They disarm Vince and shoot Kelly, wounding her. At the same time, Inger Stevens has also escaped, and made her way to be chased down the subway rails by the soon-to-be-fated-to-perish terrorist Paul Hoplin, in a  dramatic underground sequence.

Although they form an anonymous but effective force in Cry Terror! the FBI are still a little bit behind the curve in terms of domestic terror. So too is James Mason, who is foolish enough to make the bomb, although exonerated by the serious threat of murder and loss he faces.

The FBI discuss the issue in Cry Terror!, fairly early on, working on the implications of aeroplanes being bombed. Their conclusion is that they cannot as the ruling force of authority search every passenger getting on to every plane. That is of course what ended up happening in the following decades. Every single airline passenger is in fact entirely searched, as we all well know.

Serious film noir themes are here explored. The idea of psychopathy, as villains became harder and harder to comprehend, is a great film noir theme, especially as the cycle closes in the later 1950s. Terrorism and home invasion too, are only going to find a place to be acted out in the noir universe. The big American society of the 1950s had created so much in terms of public capacity, for all the great domestic, technical, military and scientific advances.

But still and for the most part, film noir is still saying that all this is going wrong. The nicer and more bourgeoise, and more democratic and liberal you make society, the more criminality, sexuality, out of control venality, sadism, anti-social behaviour and drug abuse there will be. Film noir signals the arrival of these and more.

Isolation, collapse, madness and fearful pursuit in
Cry Terror! (1958)

Regarding the prevalence of mid-air bombing and domestic terrorism on aeroplanes, it is something that had never been a particularly discussed threat. To a world that had just witnessed a war in the air, the ungenerous idea of bombs being used this way had not quite dropped.

From the previous decade there had been a few airline attacks that would have started to make the initial premise of Cry Terror! relevant.

How new this was as a concept and a threat is best demonstrated with a list of the actual mid-air terror attacks that took place in and around the era of this movie.

9 September 1949
Canadian Pacific Air Lines In-flight bombing
Joseph-Albert Guay sent a bomb made of dynamite as air cargo on a flight his wife was also on. The explosion occurred after takeoff, leading to the death of all 19 passengers and 4 crew on the Douglas DC-3. Guay and his two accomplices, Madame le Corbeau and her brother, Généreux Ruest, were all tried for murder. They were each found guilty, sentenced to death, and executed.

13 April 1950
BEA Vigilant
Bomb detonated in the bathroom over the English Channel, blowing an 8 ft. by 4 ft. hole in the fuselage. Flight attendant was seriously injured. The pilot turned back and made an emergency landing at Northolt under the impression they had been struck by lightning. French passenger suspected of attempting suicide; the plane would be repaired and returned to service.

24 September 1952
Mexicana de Aviacion Flight 575
A man gave a bag to the flight attendant, saying it was for another passenger. The bag exploded 45 minutes into the flight, which had been delayed 40 minutes due to a shift change with another flight attendant. 5 injured; perpetrators sentenced to 40 years in prison.

11 April 1955
Kashmir Princess

An Air India Lockheed L-749A Constellation carrying delegates to the Bandung Conference was bombed in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
1 November 1955
United Airlines Flight 629
Jack Gilbert Graham packed a bomb containing dynamite in a suitcase carried by his mother. The explosion and crash killed all 39 passengers and 5 crew members. Graham was convicted of first degree murder, sentenced to death, and executed.

25 July 1957
Western Air Lines N8406H
45 minutes after take-off at 7500 feet, a passenger detonated a dynamite charge in the lavatory, killing himself and blowing a hole in the fuselage over Daggett, California. Made emergency landing at George AFB; aircraft repaired.

Cry Terror! to Wikipedia

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