February 4, 2024

FEAR IS THE KEY: Fast, Fun...and Largely Forgotten

1972 / 104 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

What are we to make of John Talbot?

In the opening act alone, Talbot (Barry Newman) raises hell in a Louisiana diner, gets arrested and escapes during his trial, shooting a cop and taking Sarah Ruthven (Suzy Kendall) hostage. Then he steals a car and leads the police on a harrowing 20 minute car chase. That chase is easily the action highlight of the film, rivaling those in such classics as Bullitt and The Seven Ups.

The mayhem ends only after Talbot is captured by Herman Jablonsky (Dolph Sweet), who turns Talbot over to Sarah’s millionaire father for the reward. It turns out Ruthven and his shady partner, Vyland (John Vernon), have plans for Talbot’s deep sea salvage skills, mainly his ability to operate a submersible. 

But right from the get-go - partially because of the prologue - the viewer doesn’t quite trust what they’re seeing. Something tells us Talbot’s not the violent criminal he seems, which eventually bears itself out as the plot unfolds. What he and others are really up to is part of what keeps Fear is the Key compelling after we catch our breath from the slam-bang chase sequence. 

Offensive driving.
In fact, it’s almost like watching two different movies. The first half is reminiscent of the cult classic, Vanishing Point, which was released the previous year and briefly established Newman as sort of an antihero. The second half plays more like a Bond-type thriller, albeit on a lower budget. Even Roy Budd’s jazzy score evolves into something sounding more like John Barry. And hey…isn't that none other than Ben Kingsley (with hair!) as one of Vyland’s henchmen?

Too bad hardly anyone remembers this one. It never became a classic...or even a cult classic. Hell, I didn’t know anything about it until checking out this Blu-ray from Arrow Video. Fear is the Key is a forgotten gem that deserves the audience it never found back in the ‘70s (in the U.S., anyway). The extended car chase alone is worth the price of admission, but while the rest of the film may seem a little anticlimactic, it’s a highly entertaining adaptation of one of Alistair MacLean’s more unusual novels.


NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with a promo disc for review purposes. Physical supplemental material included with the final product (booklets, artwork, inserts, etc) were not available for review.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SPY GAME - Visual essay by critic Scout Tofoya, who provides a lot of great context.

PRODUCING THE ACTION - This 30-minute interview with associate producer Gavrik Losey is sometimes a little rambling, but he has a lot of great anecdotes about the production.

FEAR IN THE KEY OF BUDD - Historian Neil Brand discusses Roy Budd’s jazzy score.

BAYOU TO BAY - A collection of archival interviews with various crew members.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By critic/filmmaker Howard S. Berger.



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