Natalie Wood stars as Elizabeth Taggart; she's nervous about bringing her secret fiance Owen (Richard Anderson) home to meet her overbearing policeman father (Edmond O'Brien), so instead the young couple park at a lover's lane to talk over their plans and enjoy a little romance. A mentally disturbed man (Raymond Burr) knocks Owen out cold and kidnaps Liz.
Captain Ed Bates (Brian Donlevy) is soon on the case, but his investigation is hindered more than helped by Liz's father, who initially directs as much anger at Owen as he does at the man who took her. The overnight hunt seems akin to looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack, until the police get a break in the form of a call from the troubled man's equally odd mother (Carol Veazie).
I enjoyed watching the film but felt it never quite jelled the way it should have. I've really liked Edmond O'Brien in a number of films in recent months, and he was one of the reasons I was interested in seeing the movie. He usually has a gift for taking the "average guy" and making him quite appealing, even if his character is flawed; great examples of this are 711 OCEAN DRIVE (1950) or D.O.A. (1950). Unfortunately I think this film was a rare "off" performance for O'Brien, and it's perhaps the film's major problem.
Part of the issue may have been the script and how his character was written; from the beginning it's clear that he's a problem dad, bringing his job home from the office and giving boyfriends the third degree; his spinster sister (Mary Lawrence), who lives with the family, is bitter that he chased off her boyfriend years before.
It's made clear O'Brien's character's got issues, but that said, he plays his role at pretty much one pitch: angry and obnoxious. It would have been nice if he could have worked "between the lines" and brought some more nuanced emotional reactions to the depiction of a man going through a parental nightmare. I never really felt his pain, just his rage. Early on in the film he has an affectionate moment with his wife, so they seem to have had a reasonably good relationship, but as the film progresses we never see his concern for her, either. Given how much screen time his character has, his ranting and raving becomes annoying.
Donlevy plays the calm voice of reason who reassuringly directs operations on the case. He's as admirable as O'Brien's character is unpleasant. Burr, with plenty of experience playing villains at that point in his career, has no problems being completely convincing as the unbalanced criminal; in fact, he's downright creepy.
Wood turned 18 just before this film was released. She's a beautiful girl, and she also does quite well taking her character through various stages of terror and attempting to talk her way out of her situation. Casting Richard Anderson was a good "movie shorthand" for conveying that Liz's fiance is a respectable young man with good intentions, as Anderson is likeable and mature. (As a matter of fact, he was a dozen years Wood's senior, although the gap doesn't seem that big on screen.)
A CRY IN THE NIGHT was produced by Alan Ladd's Jaguar Productions and released by Warner Bros. The opening narrator, in fact, is Alan Ladd. The supporting cast includes Herb Vigran, Anthony Caruso, and Irene Hervey. Peter Hansen, who went on to be a longtime star of GENERAL HOSPITAL, plays the jailhouse doctor who realizes Anderson's not drunk, but suffering from a head injury; Hansen's name was misspelled Hanson in the opening credits.
The movie runs 75 minutes. It was directed by Frank Tuttle, with black and white cinematography by John F. Seitz.
The film was based on a novel by Whit Masterson; the screenplay was by David Dortort, best known as the creator and producer of TV westerns BONANZA and THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. Dortort's film writing credits also included THE LUSTY MEN (1952) with Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward, and REPRISAL! (1956), a Western with Guy Madison.
This film has not had a DVD or video release. It has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.