Monday, August 4, 2014

Cry Wolf

TCM wil be spending its Summer Under the Stars day tomorrow with Barbara Stanwyck, including one of her lesser movies, Cry Wolf, at 4:15 PM.

Stanwyck plays Sandra Marshall, a widow who was married to one James Demarest. It was a bit of a hush-hush marriage of convenience for both parties, and James' family had never seen her. So one she heard that he died while away, she goes to his family to deal with the usual matters of the will and all that fun stuff. It's about to get even less fun: when Sandra arrives at the isolated estate where James' uncle Mark (Errol Flynn) lives, Mark and the rest of the family claim to have no knowledge of James' ever having been married! There's a nice Hollywood trope for you.

Ah, but if you like tropes, you're about to get another one. The family doesn't just dislike her; Mark and his son are pretty much making it obvious to the viewer and to Sandra that they've got a secret that they're going to keep from her at all costs, just because. Well, OK, since it's a movie you have to assume that the secret is a bit darker than that, but the point is that the plot and staging pretty much beat it into our heads: what are they keeping from Sandra? Trope #2.

If it were just Mark acting suspsiciously, that would be one thing. But we're about to get another trope: the possibly crazy relative who hears things and claims that the rest of the family is against her. This relative is James' sister Julie (Geraldine Brooks). The first night Sandra is there, Julie hears moaning going on in another part of the house. Mark of course tries to pass Julie off as imagining things, except that this ties in with Trope #2: Sandra heard the moaning too, so now she knows that Mark is lying to her. Trope #3.

Trope #4 involves the outsider (Sandra) who knows that there's something fishy going on here deciding that she's going to do a bit of investigating in order to find out the secret. So we get a scene of Barbara Stanwyck using a dumbwaiter to get into a part of the house where she's not going to be, and where she unsurprisingly hears more secrets, which lead her to try to get a horse and ride out fo some mysterious cabin out in the woods. In among all this, Julie either falls, jumps, or is pushed out of a window, and dies. There goes Sandra's only ally.

It all leads up to the twist of an ending which wraps up all the secrets and leaves Sandra and Mark to live ever after, if not blissfully the way they would have if they had been paired in a screwball comedy. Cue the closing music.

There's something about Cry Wolf that's not right at all. We've seen all these plot devices ten times before, with the result that the plot turns out to be a thick mess that doesn't quite satisfy. Stanwyck is professional yet again in her acting, playing a woman who has to become tough in the face of resistance, something she had done many times before in her career. Flynn isn't terrible, although his role of the lying, charmless jerk is a thankless one to have to play. Still, fans of Flynn may want to watch this just to see him doing something rather different in his career.

Cry Wolf has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

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