The Price of Fear (1956)
From universal International comes this heavily plotted thriller usually reserved for Barbara Stanwyck at this point in her career. So it comes as a surprise to see Merle Oberon turning up in this programmer directed by Abner Biberman.
There’s a whole lot going in here and the crimes within get kick started when dog track owner Lex Barker finds his partner has been bought out by local mobster Warren Stevens. He’s not happy about it as he intends to run a legitimate gambling track. This isn’t exactly what Stevens has in mind. When Barker publicly threatens his ex partner it isn’t tough to tell that he’s a dead man and Barker is bound to be implicated in a murder.
While all this is going down we have another story within. A drunken society dame played by Oberon runs over a pedestrian late at night and as guilt begins to take over she decides to make a call from a pay phone to report her crime. By chance Barker is on foot running from Steven’s goons. As Merle makes the call he hops in her car and drives away. This gives Oberon an out. Once she is connected to local law enforcement she pauses for effect and reports her car stolen.
Charles Drake steps in to look over the case and when Lex is brought in on auto theft charges he has no idea that two men in separate incidents were killed the previous night. He’s implicated in both but due to the timing of both deaths there is no way he could have actually been at the scene of each one. Released on bail Barker begins looking for answers and finds himself romancing Oberon along the way.
There are no secrets here as to who committed each crime as in an outright mystery film. It’s more a case of how Barker is going to get out of his double predicament. Both he and Drake have a solid idea who is behind the murder but the hit and run perpetrator he isn’t so sure of. He’d like nothing better than to figure out the mystery and set Gia Scala straight. Gia in her first on screen credited role plays the daughter of the elderly pedestrian who was struck down and left for dead.
I’ll stop there on the plot points as they only get heavier moving forward to the melodramatic finale.
Both Lex Barker who by this time was three years removed from his Tarzan efforts and Charles Drake suit the film while Warren Stevens excels as the gangland figure who has set up Lex for the fall. Unfortunately it’s Miss Oberon who I felt came off as miscast and a wee bit stale in her role of a temptress caught in a web of deceit and murder. Definitely needed the Stanwyck touch. Maybe even Miss Crawford’s.
This black and white feature came to me by way of the Women In Danger set from the TCM Vault collection. Passable but no where near the film that Woman In Hiding turned out to be from the same set. Still it’s a rarity that I wasn’t familiar with so that alone makes it worth checking out.