In this taut thriller William Campbell stars as a locksmith forced to crack a bank safe deposit box in order to save his girlfriend (Karen Sharpe) from a ruthless mobster (Berry Kroeger). Also stars Anita Ekberg.
A film noir set-up unfolds in the opening minutes of Man in the Vault
: while relaxing one night at a bowling alley, a humble locksmith named Tommy Dancer (William Campbell) finds himself dragged into a bank heist plot because of his dexterity with lock-picking. It only takes 72 minutes for Tommy's nightmare to unfold, and yet the storyline seems uncommonly convoluted; rival gangsters are involved, Tommy strikes a volatile match with a slumming Beverly Hills dame (Karen Sharpe), and a moll plays a seemingly extraneous role--not that there's anything wrong with that, when the moll is the young Anita Ekberg. The ultra-cheap production values deflate the effort to put some noir atmosphere into the thing, but the main problem is leading man Campbell, who was a cross between Vince Edwards and a young Tony Curtis, but without the attitude. (He had been in The High and the Mighty
--like this film produced by John Wayne's Batjac company--and went on to many TV roles.) Still, there are moments, and director Andrew V. McLaglen tries to work some ingenious visual touches into the mix. Berry Kroeger makes a truly decadent villain, while Batjac regular Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez gives comic relief. The film comes very early in the credits of McLaglen and screenwriter Burt Kennedy, both of whom became associated with Westerns later in their long, fruitful careers. The movie keeps returning to the bowling alley ("Art Linkletter's La Cienaga") thereby setting up one of the strangest scenes of noir menace ever filmed. --Robert Horton