Tag Archives: Alistair MacLean

Fear is the Key (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has secret motives.

Based on the 1961 novel by Alistair MacLean the story centers around John Talbot (Barry Newman) who finds himself inside a small town courtroom standing trial for the murder of a policeman that he did not commit. He manages to escape while kidnapping a woman named Sarah (Suzy Kendall) who he takes as his hostage. He evades the authorities only to ultimately end up inside the home of Sarah’s father (Ray McAnally) where another man named Vyland (John Vernon) hires him to operate a submarine that will salvage a cargo of diamonds housed inside an underwater plane wreck.

I never read the novel, but to me the whole thing comes off in a haphazard style where the twists aren’t interesting at all and only help to make the plot even more confusing and unfocused. The car chase sequence is genuinely well done to the point that it had me riveted and quite impressed with how it was shot and looking like one of the more realistic chases I’ve seen amongst the many that are already out there. Unfortunately to go from what initially seems to be a fugitive-on-the-run-flick to an underwater espionage, sci-fi thriller is not intriguing, but jarring instead and comes off like two entirely different movies crammed together with only the thinnest of plot threads to hold it together.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is when at the film’s midway point John confides to Sarah that everything that we’ve seen before has been staged and none of it was real. For that to happen though would’ve taken many different people working together to pull it off and it’s never explained how he was able to do that. For instance who gave John the blank bullets to shoot at the police officer to escape from the courtroom and why did the policeman agree to pretend he was shot if he really wasn’t and what was in it for him to get in on John’s elaborate scheme? None of this gets explained and only helps to make it even more absurd and ludicrous until you can’t take any of it seriously.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman is not strong enough actor for the part and conveys a rather transparent presence when he should’ve had the exact opposite effect. His appearance here is too similar to the one he just gotten done doing in Vanishing Point including driving around in a similar type of car making this film seem like an extension of that one. It also comes-off like typecasting and makes viewers think this is the only type of role he can play, which could explain why his leading man career pretty much tanked after this.

The film’s only interesting aspect is the appearance of Ben Kingsley in his film debut, which was his only movie role during the 70’s as he didn’t appear in another one until 10 years later when he starred in Gandhi. Here he plays one of Vyland’s henchmen who figures prominently in the climactic finish where they must fight for air after the oxygen in the sub gets turned off, which isn’t bad.

This is also a rare production that was financed by a British studio, but filmed on-location in the US. The result captures America through a European perspective, which makes the entire thing a bit off-kilter from the very beginning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Tuchner

Studio: Anglo-EMI

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube