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  Fear is the Key Underwater Upsets
Year: 1972
Director: Michael Tuchner
Stars: Barry Newman, Suzy Kendall, John Vernon, Dolph Sweet, Ben Kingsley, Ray MacAnally, Peter Marinker, Elliott Sullivan, Roland Brand, Tony Anholt
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: John Talbot (Barry Newman) lost his family in an aeroplane accident three years ago - but how accidental was it? Now he is travelling through Louisana and after demanding bourbon on a Sunday at a smalltown store, where drinking is forbidden on the Sabbath, he gets into trouble with the policemen who arrive to pick him up. At the courtroom, it turns out Talbot is an underwater salvage expert who is on the run after killing a man, and after shooting one of the cops at the courthouse and taking a hostage in the shape of oil heiress Sarah (Suzy Kendall)... he's still on the run.

If you've watched late night British television frequently from the late seventies onwards, then Fear is the Key should feel like an old friend, as it was always on, seemingly every fortnight or so. It was based on the novel by Alistair MacLean and, despite surface appearances, a British film that had adopted some North American stars to make it appear as if it hailed from the U.S.A. There were a few factors that marked it out as a U.K. production, however.

One of them is the presence of British stars putting on dodgy American accents - except for Kendall, that is, who didn't even try to hide her English inflections, or if she did, she wasn't very sucessful at it. In Britain, the cult for this film rests on its T.V. ubiquity, but elsewhere it's because of the superb car chase that follows on from Talbot's break from the courthouse. For almost fifteen minutes he bullets through the countryside with the cops in hot pursuit, only pausing to leap onto a ferry across the Mississippi.

It's a great sequence, but after a while it seems as if it'll be a highlight that nothing else in the film can live up to. There's a plot filled with twists and turns to contend with, but it all feels oddly bloodless after the full throttle thrills of the chase, which ends when Talbot is picked up by a bounty hunter, Jablonsky (Dolph Sweet). He takes his captive and Sarah back to Sarah's father's mansion in the mercenary hope that he can gain a large amount of reward money in return.

Yet all is not what it seems, though to tell much more would spoil things. Suffice to say, Talbot is not the villain you might have thought he was, although when he explains the plot to Sarah about an hour in, it transpires to be an extremely hard to believe scheme of subterfuge and double cross. Newman was just off his Vanishing Point success here, and is a similar quiet but strong type, though without a pretentious build up to his escapades he's pretty much the nuts and bolts man of action that MacLean fans would recognise. The climax is memorable, with Talbot holding baddie John Vernon (and henchman Ben Kingsley - with hair - in his debut) to ransom underwater, which makes up for the by the numbers events between that and the chase; all in all, a two-fisted thriller that succeeds only as much as it needs to.

[Optimum's Region 2 DVD has no extras, but fans will be pleased with the gleaming widescreen print it offers.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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