Monday, March 21, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Cry Wolf (1947)

CRY WOLF is a rather odd film, in that its parts are greater than the whole. It has an excellent cast, a mysterious storyline in a spooky house, beautiful cinematography, marvelously creepy music...and builds to a conclusion that left this viewer chuckling "Well, okay, then!"

Barbara Stanwyck plays Sandra Marshall, who turns up at the dark and forbidding Caldwell estate claiming to be the widow and heir of recently deceased Jim Caldwell. Jim's Uncle Mark (Errol Flynn) is quite startled by the news, but invites Sandra to stay as a house guest while he checks out Jim's will.

Jim's unhappy sister Julie (Geraldine Brooks) is delighted to have Sandra as a companion, but Sandra is unsettled by various things, including Jim's closed coffin, his missing pipes, and, most notably, screams in the night. And then there's Mark's locked laboratory... (Or, as Jacqueline writes in her fun review of this film at Another Old Movie Blog, the LABORATORY!)

Accompanied by gloomy music by Franz Waxman, Sandra tries to uncover the family's mysteries, fearlessly riding up and down in dumbwaiters, climbing over rooftops, and racing around on horseback. It's fun to watch her, but the secrets she ultimately uncovers are far from what she expected, and the audience is left wondering just a bit if perhaps Sandra is more foolish than brave.

The movie is effective in gradually shifting viewer perceptions of the characters, but the climactic explanation for the goings-on is perplexing, perhaps more so for a modern audience. It's quite a watchable movie, but despite its strong points, I was left wishing for a more satisfying plot resolution.

Stanwyck is lovely as the fiesty Sandra, who refuses to be cowed by screams, locked doors, and or the equally determined Mark. Flynn is quite good in an ambiguous performance; it would be interesting to rewatch the film with full knowledge of the plot. While initially he comes across as a possible villain, I think he might come off a little more as a heroic Mr. Rochester type on the second go-round.

CRY WOLF was directed by Peter Godfrey, who also directed Stanwyck in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945). The crisp black and white cinematography was by Carl Guthrie. The movie runs 83 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Patricia Barry (then billed as Patricia White) as a young maid; over a decade later she guest starred in a couple excellent episodes of my favorite TV series, MAVERICK. Richard Basehart, Jerome Cowan, John Ridgely, Helen Thimig, and Rory Mallinson are also in the cast.

CRY WOLF was released on DVD-R by Warner Archive last November. (June 2017 Update: My review of the Warner Archive disc may be found here.)

CRY WOLF has also been released on VHS.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

So glad you made it out of the LABORATORY! alive. This is a good point: "it would be interesting to rewatch the film with full knowledge of the plot. While initially he comes across as a possible villain, I think he might come off a little more as a heroic Mr. Rochester type on the second go-round."

I like your comparison of him to Mr. Rochester. It's funny how some movies are like some of the food dishes we make - better the second day.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's definitely true about some movies getting better on repeat viewings! I think I'll like this one more next time -- less scary, more insight into Flynn's character.

Appreciate your note very much! As well as your original review. :)

Best wishes,

10:40 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

It's been awhile since I've seen this, but your opinion seems to coincide with mine. The first 20 minutes or so are especially impressive, and then it turns progressively less interesting.

Director Peter Godfrey didn't seem to have a knack for these psychological thrillers. "The Two Mrs. Carrolls" is one of Bogart's worst. Always wondered why Warner Bros. assigned him these projects.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I enjoy this sometimes gloomy, sometimes inexplicable movie, in part because it gave Errol Flynn (who was producing the movie) a good character role to explore--with subtlety and nuances that must have given him some artistic satisfaction, even if the movie was not terribly successful with critics and audiences. I wonder if the underlying anxiety about science following the war might have added to the dark aspersions cast on Flynn's experiments in his laboratory?

I like your idea of seeing this a second time, especially since his brusqueness becomes more understandable then.

I can't imagine how daunting this movie must have been for those neophytes, Richard Basehart (he'd only appeared in one other indie movie) and Geraldine Brooks. Working at Warner Brothers and with two of the biggest stars in the world then must have been pretty interesting, to put it mildly.

Though the plot is sometimes hard to follow, I have a weakness for the films of journeyman director Peter Godfrey such as this film, Hotel Berlin, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, The Woman in White and Escape Me Never. None of them are great movies, but there are moments in the films that stand out for me, especially when Godfrey is able to create a mood on screen that seems almost Gothic. This really made sense to me when I read your comparison of Flynn's character to Mr. Rochester.

Thanks for reminding me of this film.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Really enjoying everyone's thoughts here.

Moira, I wasn't aware Flynn produced. You make an interesting point about the science aspect. Along those lines, your science comment reminded me how many films of the mid '40s and postwar years were fascinated with psychoanalysis (i.e., SPELLBOUND, LADY IN THE DARK). Perhaps some of the subject matter of this film is an extension of that interest in the human mind.

One of my daughters is a big fan of the film version THE WOMAN IN WHITE. I haven't seen that one yet and didn't realize it was another Godfrey film.

This is one of those movies that, as Kevin says, shows such promise at the outset -- I wanted to like it even more than I did. This discussion is definitely encouraging me to take a future look at it from a new perspective!

Best wishes,

1:25 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Laura: I'm enjoying the discussion too, especially Moira's typically insightful comments. I think I need to check this one out again.

2:17 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I love this movie! 1947 was a busy "old dark house" year for Stanwyck since she also did "The Two Mrs. Caroll's", which has one of the most entertaining cheesy scenes ever: Bogart's window entry on "a dark and stormy night". :-)
According to the new and definitely not improved TCM website this film will be shown on June 20. However, I could not find the "remind me" icon which used to be so easy to use on the old TCM website.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for weighing with your thoughts on this film, Panavia!

Don't get me started on the unprofessional TCM website redesign...oops, too late!...whoever did it needs to be fired or (if contracted out) give TCM their money back. All Google searches of the TCM (such as for CRY WOLF) lead to dead end Zombie pages, and most links ever posted here remain dead. It's disturbing that 12 days later they don't have a fix. And other valuable information is now missing from the schedule page, or has to be accessed by taking the time to click individual titles. It's just a mess... I know sometimes change is resisted, but this isn't change, they broke it! Sigh...

Anyway, a few months ago I recorded THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS along with another Bogart-Smith movie, CONFLICT. Looking forward to checking them out.

Best wishes,

6:02 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

I like this movie too, despite the hokey nature of the plot. Apart from the grim and forbidding setting, there's a real sense of "something not right" with some/all of the characters, and that adds to the appeal.

It's also refreshing to see Flynn given a chance to try his hand at a very different (for him anyway) kind of role.

Someone made the point about Godfrey's movies, The Two Mrs Carrolls in particular, having a Gothic feel and I'd agree with that assessment. They may not be great movies but the set design and mood push all the right buttons.

2:04 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Laura, I'd love to hear your comments on MRS CARROLLS and CONFLICT sometime. Both very enjoyable. CONFLICT is a better film, MRS CARROLLS is just fun. TCM's June schedule is not viewable on the new site, even though I had already downloaded it from the old site. I used to browse everyday, now I visit once or twice a week. There is lots of pretty shading and framing at the expense of actual content and ease of navigation. What were they thinking?

3:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Livius? It's interesting how many people have seen this movie! That's a good thought about it being quite a different type of role for Flynn. Not much of the usual twinkle in his eye in this one.

Panavia, THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS is playing at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood next's on a day that would be tricky for me (a Wednesday night) but I'm keeping it in mind just in case my schedule cooperates! It's playing with Olivia de Havilland in THE DARK MIRROR. I could happily attend each and every double bill in the series if time, money and gas prices cooperated! :)

Best wishes,

3:22 PM  

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