There are major motion pictures that slip through the cracks. During Cinema Overdrive screenings, Adam Hulin runs trailers for movies that have vanished from the pop culture landscape. They might have starred major actors with name directors, but most of the audience has zero clue that they existed. These are films that might not have even been released on VHS. While many of them are bad, there are quite a few that deserve to be revived. Fear Is the Key is a film that I have never seen on TV or at a video rental store. This is a strange since reunites the two big stars of Vanishing Point: Barry Newman and car chase choreographer Carey Loftin. Who didn’t want another thrilling film Barry behind the wheel? But it seems like the film doesn’t exist. Fear Is The Key isn’t talked about in arguments about the best car chase scenes in movie. When Vanishing Point is mentioned, does anyone say, “Have you seen this other movie he made?” The film was a hit in Europe so it hadn’t completely vanished from the collective memory. Fear Is the Key is getting a revival thanks to the Blu-ray.
John Talbot (The Limey‘s Barry Newman) is on the radio talking to a woman whose plane has just been attacked. He’s helpless as he listens. What seems like a few years later, Talbot find himself in rural Louisiana on a Sunday. This isn’t good for him because he’s carving hard liquor. He can only buy a beer in that parish on the Lord’s Day. He forces the bartender to sell him a fifth and starts pounding down a few shots. This leads to the cops showing up. Talbot isn’t in a good mood and beats up the boys in blue. This leads to a visit to the judge. Talbot discovers he’s wanted on even more serious charges. Instead of calling a good lawyer, Talbot gets his hands on a gun. He takes out the bailiff, kidnaps Sarah Ruthven (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage‘s Suzy Kendall) and hits the road for a nearly 20-minute car chase in an orange Ford Gran Torino muscle car. The cops chase him across bayous, levees, beaches and docks. We see the car go airborne to try to catch a ferry. But when Sarah makes a run for it, the film shifts as Talbot finds himself wrapped up and taken hostage by Jablonsky (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three‘s Dolph Sweet). Turns out Sarah’s dad needs someone with Talbot’s talents for underwater recovery for a mission. He’s forced to deal with John Vernon (National Lampoon’s Animal House) and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) in a submersible vehicle.
The true star of the film is the massive chase scene. Besides Vanishing Point, Carey Loftin was part of the legendary car stunts for Steve McQueen’s Bullitt and Gene Hackman’s The French Connection. Loftin knows how to put you in the middle of the vehicular mayhem. There’s a great shot where the car skids out and the gravel busts the camera lens. They kept that cracking moment in the film to remind us that this is dangerous. It’s badass cinema moment. I don’t get how this chase alone didn’t make it a staple of drive-in car culture back in 1972.
The second half of the film is more intrigue as Talbot uncovers why exactly he’s been lured to this part of the state and what awaits him at the bottom of the Gulf. This is the part of the movie that seems torn from Alistair MacLean’s novel. We finally receive a sense of why Talbot is a massive jerk in the bar at the start of the film. You also get to see Ben Kingsley as an intense mobster before he’d win the Oscar for his non-violence ways. This film fits in perfectly when Kinglsey plays an older intense mobster in Sexy Beast. After seeing Suzy Kendall in Italian Giallo flicks including Sergio Martino’s Torso, it’s odd seeing her in the deep South. She hangs on for the ride during the massive chase. Fear Is The Key deserves to be brought back from cinema purgatory so you can witness Barry Newman behind the wheel and pushing the gas pedal all the way down. This is high octane cinema.
The Video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer will let you fully appreciate the movie. The Audio is LPCM Mono. You’ll hear the tires squeal clearly. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary by filmmaker and critic Howard S. Berger gets into what was going on when the film was released.
A Different Kind of Spy Game (23:33) has film critic and author Scout Tafoya get into the film adaptations of Alistair MacLean. He talks about how the Scottish writer began his novel career after the Navy and being a street sweeper. Movie producers viewed MacLean’s work as James Bond-esque with Ice Station Zebra, The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare.
Fear in the Key of Budd (16:34) allows the work of composer Roy Budd to be explored by music historian Neil Brand. Budd did this score after his thrilling work on Michael Caine’s Get Carter. He gets into how Budd constructed the music that accompanies the massive chase scene without overpowering the natural sounds of the cars and police sirens. We learn that English jazz legend Ronnie Scott does the sax solo on the big chase. Scott played a solo on The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.” Brand ties together the themes that tell the store throughout the Fear Is The Key.
Producing the Action (29:55) has associate producer Gavrik Losey talk about the film and the car stunt work. He was part of the group that went up to the Daytona 500 to meet with Joie Chitwood and his Hell Drivers. They were hired to do the big car chase along with Carey Loftin in charge of the action. His tales of working with a Louisiana sheriff is rather chilling. He explains how they shot part of the oil rig action back in England at the studio. He had previously worked with Suzy Kendell.
Double-sided foldout poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh is perfect for framing.
Illustrated collector’s booklet with has a new essay by filmmaker and critic Sean Hogan
From Bayou to Bray (39:30) has cast and crew discuss making the film. The guests include Paul Tucker (Assistant Production Account), John Golding (Focus Puller), Anthony Jackson (Sound Mixer), Peter Marinker (played Larry) and others. The filming started in Louisiana and then they shot in Bray Studios for interiors and underwater action. Anthony Jackson recalls his first time sleeping on a waterbed while in America. He also praises his local driver who drove him around in an ex-police cruiser and introduced him to so much of the local culture. The English crew was able to get work Visas as opposed to what would have happened if they shot in Los Angeles. They quickly worked htings out with the Teamsters. They converted a school bus into the camera truck. We also learn how the film is connected to Thunderbirds. Bray Studios is best known for being where Hammer shot many of their horror films.
Theatrical Trailer (2:16) cuts straight to the car action and fights with the cops. This trailer screams. “Drive-In Gold!” There’s a lot of talk about Alistair MacLean.
Arrow Video presents Fear Is The Key. Directed by Michael Tuchner. Screenplay by Robert Carrington. Starring Barry Newman, Suzy Kendall, John Vernon as Vyland, Dolph Sweet, Ben Kingsley, Ray McAnally & Peter Marinker. Running Time: 105 minutes. Rating: Rated PG. Release Date: February 13, 2024.
P.S. This is when the stunt car’s skid busts the camera lens, and they kept it in the film. My TV set is not broken.