The Price of Fear (1956 film)

The Price of Fear is a 1956 American film noir crime film directed by Abner Biberman and starring Merle Oberon and Lex Barker.

The Price of Fear
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAbner Biberman
Produced byHoward Christie
Screenplay byDick Irving Hyland
Story byRobert Tallman
StarringMerle Oberon
Lex Barker
CinematographyIrving Glassberg
Edited byRay Snyder
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 13, 1956 (1956-03-13) (United States)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States


David Barrett, the co-owner of a dog-track, discovers that his partner, Lou Belden, has sold out to gangster Frankie Edare, who plans to get rid of Barrett and take sole control of the enterprise. Barrett goes to the Intermezzo Club to confront him; while there Barrett spots Lou and loudly threatens him.

Around the same time, a respected businesswoman, Jessica Warren, leaves a nightclub after celebrating a work-related success. She begins driving herself home, although she is "a bit too happy", and accidentally runs down an elderly man, Ferranti, who, while following his dog, has stepped in front of her on the road. Extremely upset, Jessica drives away from the scene; eventually steeling herself, she stops at a service station and places a call to the police.

Meanwhile, Barrett has left in a taxi from his contentious meeting with Edare. He notices that a car has been following, so he gives the cabbie, McNab, twenty dollars to pull over. With Edare's henchmen in pursuit, Barrett runs off until he comes across Jessica's car at the service station. He jumps in it and drives away. Jessica sees this and immediately decides to not report the hit and run, but simply tell police her car has been stolen.

Back at the Intermezzo, while waiting to hear from his henchmen, Edare has been keeping Lou drinking. The call comes that the guys have lost Barrett and Edare suggests to Lou that "Dave's gunning for you" but not to worry, he will drive him home. They go out the back way, where, in a drive-by, Lou is gunned down and killed by a couple of Edare's men.

The next morning, newspaper headlines scream that Barrett is being sought for the murder of Lou Belden. A city detective, Pete Carroll, who is a friend of Barrett's, tells his Lieutenant that he is sure Barrett did not do it. His Lieutenant has the witnesses who heard Barrett threaten Lou, and a pawnbroker who says Barrett had bought a shotgun from him the previous evening. As Carroll and his lieutenant talk, a call comes that Barrett has been picked up for car theft; then Carroll learns that the car has been linked to the hit and run.

Carroll tells Barrett that the good news is that the time of the hit and run actually clears him of the murder. Barrett recognizes he has been double-framed but understands that, while Ferranti is alive, a charge related to this would be easier to get out of. Jessica comes into the station to tell her story, rife with details which seem to cement Barrett's guilt; he is held for grand theft auto and told that, should Ferranti die, he will be charged with manslaughter. Jessica is taken aback by this, but she does not admit her involvement. Out on bail, Barrett visits Jessica in her office; he tells her he knows there are untruths in her story. There is an apparent attraction between the two and, shortly, they begin a relationship.

As he is about to sign a confession to the hit and run, the District Attorney decides to not charge Barrett with this, convinced they will be able to prove he murdered Lou Belden. Pete Carroll visits Jessica at home to let her know he is suspicious of her. Barrett asks her directly if she did it, and she says no. He tells her that his alibi is McNab, the cabbie, although to be cleared of the hit and run puts him in line for a murder charge. Jessica worries the police will then pursue her.

Jessica goes looking for McNab; his boss at the taxi company says that "everybody's looking for McNab", and informs her that the man has essentially dropped out of sight. He notices her initials on her purse and, when she leaves, he phones Edare, who is the "everybody" he had referred to. Later, as Jessica is leaving her apartment, Edare appears and suggests the two of them have a lot to talk about. Edare realizes it is she who committed the hit and run.

At her apartment, Jessica ostensibly receives flowers from Dave, but the box contains the shotgun used to kill Lou. Carroll and Barrett take the weapon to the pawnbroker, who now insists he does not know who bought it from him. He then indicates that the two men should "look in the back" of the store, where Edare's man Vince, assigned to keep an eye on the pawnbroker, is aware of what is going on and escapes from the rear exit. Edare phones Jessica to say that Barrett has been cleared of the murder, now they must find McNab and keep him quiet; she tells him she will handle it. Vince is assigned to tail her because Edare knows she will lead them to the cabbie.

Barrett locates an address for McNab. When he calls to share this with Jessica, she insists she accompany him there to be of help. Mrs. McNab tells them her husband is out of town, or "on a drunk". Jessica surreptitiously slips the woman $1,000 and a note telling her to say nothing to Barrett. When the couple leave, McNab comes out of the bedroom.

Upon returning home, Barrett finds Ferranti's daughter, Nina, waiting. She tells him her father has died; she does not believe him when he says he can prove he did not do it, she declares she will see him punished. McNab's conscience is bothering him so, when his wife leaves their apartment to buy him liquor, he phones Barrett. Before he can discuss anything, Vince enters and murders McNab. Edare drops in on Jessica to inform her that she is now in the clear. When Barrett comes by and begins telling Jessica about having gone to McNab's place and finding him dead, she slips up, revealing that she already knew. She then tells Barrett about Edare's intimidation of her, although she exaggerates. Mrs. McNab shows up, exposes Jessica's bribery, then establishes a bribe of her own by suggesting Jessica help fill the income gap that exists now that her husband is dead.

After the woman goes, Jessica tells Barrett she loves him. After a few moments, she admits what Barrett knows, that she is responsible for the hit and run. She asks him to stay with her, and they share a romantic interlude; however, when she refuses to go to the police with the truth, he says he will give her until noon the next day to turn herself in, and leaves. Nina Ferranti comes to Barrett's apartment to apologize; she offers to help him. He divulges that he knows who killed her father but will not talk about it "until tomorrow". At that point, Jessica phones, begging for a day or two more because she is leaving the country. She has written a full confession but cannot face the consequences; she gives him details concerning the train she will be taking.

Barrett heads to the train station; Nina follows him there, then phones Carroll saying she is aware that Barrett and Jessica are "running away together". On board the moving train, Jessica shows Barrett her confession and seemingly agrees to get off at the first stop in order to go to the police. They decide to go to the club car for a drink, but Jessica misdirects Barrett and they end up in the baggage car, where Edare and Vince are waiting. Edare explains that Barrett is going to "meet the southbound train" scheduled to pass theirs after the first stop. Jessica claims she had no choice, she "made one mistake" and panic set into motion circumstances she was too weak to prevent.

At the first stop, Vince unexpectedly must pretend to be the baggage man. During this distraction, Barrett overpowers Edare, but the two criminals quickly regain control, knocking Barrett out. Carroll manages to get on board and has the conductor help him search. A woman passenger comes along to complain she hears her dog continuously barking in the baggage car. The conductor calls the car, then tells Carroll that the voice was not that of the regular baggage man. As Edare and Vince are dragging Barrett toward the open door, he struggles free; Carroll enters and shoots Edare. Jessica throws herself in front of the southbound train.


See also

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