Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Fear is the Key - 1972 film review

During my teens, I went through an Alistair MacLean phase, reading every thriller he'd written. I began with The Last Frontier,and took in classics like H.M.S. Ulysses and Where Eagles Dare along the way. In time, MacLean's writing seemed to me to deteriorate, and I stopped reading him. But one of my favourites of his novels was Fear is the Key, which impressed me with its plot twists and emotional drive.

So I was glad to seize the chance to watch the film version, made in 1972,when MacLean's fame was more or less at its height. His stories were visual, and many were turned into films, most of which I watched - but somehow I missed this one. Perhaps because its cast was slightly less starry - although it did include a youngish Ben Kingsley, complete with a full head of hiir!

Barry Newman plays John Talbot, the main protagonist. Newman was well-known as the star of the TV series Petrocelli, but for me he was never quite in the top league of action heroes. Here he does a competent job, but although it's perhaps a harsh judgment, I feel he didn't have quite the level of charisma, magnetism or however one describes it that seems necessary for the role of Talbot. The obligatory glamorous young woman is played by Suzy Kendall, who was once married to Dudley Moore.

At the start of the film, Talbot is involved in a tragic but slightly mysterious incident. The action then shifts forward three years. Talbot is arrested and brought to court, where he shoots a policeman and escapes after kidnapping Suzy Kendall. There's a memorable car chase, and the plot twists come at acceptably regular intervals. Roy Budd supplies an excellent, jazzy soundtrack. Overall, a watchable action movie, but it's not of the same high quality as some of the best MacLean films.


dfordoom said...

Most of the MacLean movie adaptations are entertaining, even the lower budgeted ones. Puppet On a Chain, made about the same time, is also worth a look.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

This is definitely in the B MacLean movie category, along with likes of WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL, but I think works pretty well, though one could argue that the level of duress would make the who plot un-triable in court :) It is fairly close to the original novel though (I did a comparison here, by the way: But I know what you mean about macLean's writing - I think it got to the point that he would write the screenplay first and then, in effect, novelise it - his work in the 70s does, as I recall, tend to feel always like movies in waiting ...

RJS said...

I remember reading the book when I was about 12.
I found it difficult at first - because the narrator was a criminal
Fortunately I overcame my moral outrage and persisted.
Lucky for me because it was an exciting read and the hero was a genuine hero not a villain.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments and the good points made. I rather liked Puppet on a Chain myself, and When Eight Bells Toll. Sergio, thanks a lot for that link.

Clothes In Books said...

I too had my Alastair MacLean phase when I read everything I could by him - Golden Rendezvous was my favourite. I haven't seen many of the films - I remember the book Fear is the Key very clearly, but would be curious to see the film.