This review was written 42 years too late
“Fear is the Key” has a lot going for it – a cracking Roy Budd soundtrack, some staple 1970s action visuals (hub caps pinging off cars in a chase, helicopters with inflatable skis), very bad clothes, and a just post-“Vanishing Point” Barry Newman behind the wheel of both a red Ford Gran Torino and, bizarrely, a bathysphere. Yes, you read that right.
On the downside, the pacing of the film is off. A twelve-minute plus car chase is like a precursor to “Smokey and the Bandit” and suffers from terrible continuity (check out the right front wing of the car), not to mention the endless drone of police sirens, and elsewhere director Michael Tuchner submits us to such thrilling spectacles as people taking sowesters off.
Newman plays on-the-lam John Talbot, who escapes a small town Louisiana court house by shooting a policeman and grabbing rich heiress Suzy Kendall as a hostage. Evading the law, he’s eventually snared by ex-cop Jablonsky who, rather than turn him in, brings him to Kendall’s daddy to collect a $$$ thank-you for returning her.
And from there, it all gets a little unlikely, as you might expect from a plot based on an Alastair MacLean novel, when heavyweight John Vernon as a dodgy businessman and a crazy-eyed Ben (“That’s Sir Ben to you!”) Kingsley as his henchman force Talbot into piloting a bathysphere into the depths.
Was there really no one else they could get? No, let’s take the dodgy, unreliable fugitive. Nothing can go wrong with that.
Curious casting gives “Fear is the Key” something a little different – quite how Brit-film and TV stalwarts Ben Kingsley, Ray McAnally and Tony Anholt ended up in this is a mystery. Newman is good enough, while John Vernon is, as usual, sleeping through the criminal half of his range (the other half usually seeing him as the Mayor or college Dean).
Poor quality clip of the car chase: