Unexpectedly tough little hostage drama, the last release from 20th Century before merging with larger, but struggling FOX Corp., is a modest, but dandy suspenser. The film starts as a kidnapping drama (worried relatives, cops, Feds, an early name drop for J. Edgar Hoover), but it’s just set up for the main story of a young couple, their baby & their dog, forced by a storm to take shelter in an abandoned rural house. And guess who’s using that house as a hideout? The four kidnappers have already dropped off the kid and picked up the loot when they return, find the little family, then fight over what to do with them. Rochelle Hudson & Edward Norris are calm & believable as the parents, and the four henchmen (Cesar Romero, Bruce Cabot, Edward Brophy, Warren Hyman) make up a well-seasoned quartet of mismatched thugs. Cabot, the most sadistic of the bunch, gives an exceptional perf, and the film comes up with lots of smart twists to keep everyone busy before a shock of a finale. Journeyman director George Marshall makes good use of some real location shooting, but the standout craftsman is cinematographer Bert Glennon whose daringly minimal lighting schemes, with hardly any ‘fill’ in sight, would never have been allowed at most major studios.
DOUBLE-BILL: Next year’s classic hostage drama, THE PETRIFIED FOREST/’36, looks hopelessly stagebound next to this, though it has its own strengths.