Movie Critique – The Night Holds Terror

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A desperate night of survival for a family; a cruel attempt by the villains to get some fast cash; excellent star cast and phenomenal direction, makes this a very chilling, thrilling and terror filling movie. 

The Night Holds Terror is a 1955 American film noir written, produced and directed by Andrew L. Stone. It stars Vince Edwards, Hildy Parks, John Cassavetes and Jack Kelly among others. The plot is based on a true incident. It is released by Columbia Pictures.

Gene Courtier (portrayed by Jack Kelly) picks up a hitchhiker named Victor Gosset (portrayed by Vince Edwards), a criminal belonging to a robbery group headed by Robert Batsford (portrayed by John Cassavetes). They end up staying overnight at Courtier's home with his family while they collect the money they need. Thus begins the night of terror for Gene and Doris Courtier (portrayed by Hildy Parks) and a time filled with fear for their kids.

The true incident occurred on February 13, 1953 when Eugene M. Courtier, an Edwards Air Force Base Technician is kidnapped by a trip of robbers and held for ransom. The film obviously fictionalizes some portion of the ordeal, but it still stayed true to the original incident. 

Recently I saw another one of John Cassevetes film, The Killers, a 1965 American neo noir crime. But I fondly remember him for his role as Alex Benedict from Season 2 Episode 1 of TV series Columbo, titled Etude in Black, released in September of 1972. This is the first credited role for Cassevetes.

As for the other two in the trio of criminals - Vince Edwards playing the part of Victor Gosset will be familiar to all Classic TV fans and remember him for his role as Dr. Ben Casey in the TV series Ben Casey. We saw him in one episode of Murder, She Wrote, the 80s and 90s American crime drama series titled Three Strikes, You're Out (Season 5 Episode 20). More prominently I remember him for his role as Claude from the 1958 American film noir Murder By Contract, released three years after this film was released. Vince Edwards was every bit a crooked and cruel criminal in the film.

David Cross, the third wheel as Luther Logan, seems to have his first debut role with this film, and a credited one at that. He seemed to have a rather very short career from 1955 thru 1962; and that he passed away in November of 1990. Other than that there is not a whole lot about David Cross you can find. 

There were several radio and television appearances by the real Mr. and Mrs. Courtier to promote the film. They were even given $500 each for allowing the film makers to use their name. 

Pretty much all the actors were relatively unknown at the time of the filming. But for Hildy Parks in particular this was a debut film. Between her and Jack Kelly's Gene, they made a compatible suburban couple who make the best out of the worst situation. 

Although a film debut, Parks had been a successful stage artist. She went back to theater along-side her husband and wrote several Tony award winning plays that her husband directed. As for Jack Kelly, I couldn’t figure out where else I saw him. But Classic TV fans will recognize him for his role as Bart Maverick in the 50s and 60s American western television drama series Maverick. The name Maverick sounds very intriguing. I should watch it some time. 

The opening credits roll out on a portrait of the Courtier family, the actual family that had gone through the ordeal. The narration in the background in the opening of the film and some part during the film was given by William Woodson, American film, stage, radio and voice actor. He even speaks the names of the actors and their character names in the film. Later on in the film Jack Kelly's character Gene Courtier narrates the tale to some part. The opening credits and part of the beginning of the film also interlace. 

Director Andrew Stone along with his wife Virginia, created a new genre of film noir that used actual locations for shooting; and less of studio simulation keeping the film as authentic as possible. 

Movie also showcases the other side of the crime - the good side, the law that uses everything at their disposal to catch the criminals. In the process we see how the telephone company helps; and the laborious process they go through. Very interesting to see how it was handled back in the days. 

A desperate night of survival for a family; a cruel attempt by the villains to get some fast cash; excellent star cast and phenomenal direction, makes this a very chilling, thrilling and terror filling movie. A solid B Movie that only got better as each minute progressed. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Andrew L. Stone also wrote and directed another film based on a true incident, the 1958 thriller Cry Terror! Starring James Mason, Inger Stevens and Rod Steiger. 

b. The plot of this film reminded me of a Indian Hindi language films - the 1974 crime thriller 36 Ghante (= 36 Hours). Although the story is deviates a little in the Hindi film. Also there is no acknowledgement if 36 Ghante was based on The Night of Terror. 

c. Virginia Stone is also credited for singing a song titled "Every Now And Then". However there is no song heard, at least I couldn’t find.

d. Recognize the car dealership guy, Stanske, in the picture below. He is Barney Phillips. Another Classic TV frequenter including his appearances in The Twilight Zone, American anthology series delving into the genre of horror, fantasy and sci-fi; and the original Perry Mason TV show, America legal drama series. I remember him from the Season Episode 4, Suitable for Framing, of the TV show Columbo. He played Captain Wyler in that movie. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In several scenes we keep seeing the front license plate of the villain's car appear and disappear.

b. Doris Courtier refers to another true incident - the kidnapping and killing of 6 year old Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Jr. in Kansas City on Sept. 28, 1953. The Courtier incident happened in February 1953; a good 7 months before the Greenlease kid incident. No way Doris would have known about it if the film was set in 1953. However if the film was set in real time, as in 1955, then it makes sense. But then it voids all the references to 1953 in the film. 

c. Crew member's shadow can be seen reflected in the telephone booth that Robert uses at the Thrifty Drug Store.


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