When discussing the decades of cinema, 1939, has always been considered to be the greatest year for movies, and that is indeed correct, as it was during this twelve months that beloved classics like “The Wizard Of Oz” and “Gone With The Wind”, as well as several other notable productions, including my favorite “Dark Victory” hit the cinemas. Though 1939, was not the only time that motion pictures reached it’s pinnacle. During the annals of cinematic history, there has been many triumphant years, where the movies were at great depths. One of these years is 1947, which is also known to be an hellacious period for movies, with an array of memorable classics being released that year. Not only did some of the world’s top grossing films arrive at the box office, it was also a time when the Film Noir genre was at it’s zenith.
Barbara Stanwyck was the most versatile actress to ever grace the silver screen. During the annals of her career, she pioneered her way through an array of notable classics, showcasing her inimitable talents through a long series of diverse roles that spotlighted the versatility and in depth emotions she displayed in her range as an actress.
For decades she reigned as one of Hollywood’s most gifted assets, and that assumption is indeed correct. She had the most ability among her contemporaries to demonstrate such raw emotion without having to resort to using histrionics, and yet unlike the majority of her peers, she never received a single Oscar, though she was nominated four times, but sadly missing out on all occasions, which certainly is a robbery, considering that those pictures and a myriad of others on her voluminous resume of films were definitely worthy of an Academy Award.
The recipe for Barbara Stanwyck’s success is that she never stopped working. Year after year she would turn in profitable features in many different genres, and since the triumphant results she obtained for her thunderous portrayal of Phyllis Dietrichson in the Film Noir masterpiece “Double Indemnity”, she became the preferred candidate for Film Noir, an aspect of her career that she shined in and came accustomed to.
Following the auspicious outcome of “The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers” in 1946, Barbara Stanwyck was cast in five productions in 1947, that boasted wide encomium, but never attained the status that her previous films had acquired. Among these vehicles came the Warner Brothers, Mystery/ Film Noir production, “Cry Wolf”, that starred Stanwyck alongside the Tasmanian born, Errol Flynn, in one of his non swashbuckling roles.
“Cry Wolf” was a rather obscure movie for it’s time and appeared to be very unrealistic, though it had the potential to be a masterpiece, as all the elements of a remarkable thriller were there. From the mysterious and suspenseful plot to the dark creepy mansion, filled with howls in the night, and situated on a large estate in an unknown location is what mounts to an enduring chiller, but sadly it didn’t seem to coalesce with most audiences, which is a shame, because it has the appeal to be a beloved classic.
The film was directed by Stanwyck’s close friend, Peter Godfrey, who placed his directorial efforts in two other Stanwyck productions, “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” and “Christmas In Connecticut”, but like “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s, the pictures main fault is with the director, who never quite developed the knack for Film Noir, as he did with comedies like “Christmas In Connecticut”, where he received accolades for his commendable efforts. Though being close friends with Peter, Barbara dismissed that his shortcomings as a director was the main cause for the films insignificance.
The story was based on the novel of the same name by Marjorie Carleton, which was released in early 1945, and by April that year, Warner Brothers were impressed by the nature of the plot, and set about purchasing the film rights for a vehicle starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, though by the time things went into finalization, Errol Flynn was assigned the role of Mark Caldwell, and Dorothy Malone was offered the role of Julie, until Warners saw Julie as the perfect role for the newcomer Geraldine Brooks to make her film debut.
The film revolves around the story of Sandra Marshall ( Barbara Stanwyck ), who first enters the scene at the Caldwell estate, claiming to be the widow of the recently deceased Jim Caldwell. At first, Mark ( Errol Flynn ) doesn’t believe her allegations, and views her as a callous human being chasing the inheritance. However he invites Sandra to stay at the house while he examines the will, and to see if Julie is telling the truth.
On her first evening at the mansion she befriends Jim’s dispirited sister, Julie ( Geraldine Brooks ) a virtual prisoner in her own house since being under Mark’s strict guardianship. To Julie, Sandra couldn’t have arrived at a better time. She sees Sandra as a sister, and the only person she can turn to for support.
As time progresses, Sandra becomes unsettled by numerous happenings in the mansion, including Jim’s closed coffin, the missing pipes in Jim’s bedroom, Mark’s equivocal aura, and the locked laboratory. Suspicions arise when Sandra begins to hear the screams in the middle of the night, that has always bothered Julie. With this latest mystery, Sandra starts investigating the bizarre death of Jim Caldwell and unraveling the mystery that surrounds him.
Barbara Stanwyck was a virtuoso of the motion picture industry, and never failed to deliver a laudable and intense performance. While this movie is a solid thriller, it is amusing to see her peregrinating her way around the remote mansion, climbing rooftops, going in and out windows, and going up and down dumbwaiters to get to the secret and locked laboratory, trying to elicit the truth.
For years, Barbara Stanwyck had been doing her own stunts and this continued right through her “Big Valley” days in the late 1960’s. Some of the daring obstacles she faces here could be quite dangerous if not performed properly, but instead, it all appears second nature to Barbara as she climbs out onto the wet slate roof in a skirt and heels, falls off a horse, climbs fences, and running hastily around a commodious dark mansion.
It’s also interesting to note that this is one of the last films we see Barbara Stanwyck with long dark hair. By 1948, when she starred in “Sorry Wrong Number”, she was sporting a shorter style cut and her hair appeared grey, which would continue to remain the same for the rest of her life.
“Cry Wolf” is also an excellent departure for Errol Flynn, who had the opportunity to steer away from his swashbuckling roles, to portray the part of the reserved and sceptical Mark Caldwell. Many say that he appeared wooden and out of character here, but in truth, he actually got the chance to prove that he was just as adept playing a heavy solid part to the same affect.
The film also spotlights a stellar supporting cast that includes Geraldine Brooks in her film debut, Richard Basehart in the role of Mark’s brother, and Jerome Cowan among others.
“Cry Wolf” is a spectacular mystery, thriller that will continue to enthrall audiences of all ages for many decades to come.
Dennis Morgan was considered before Errol Flynn was ultimately cast.
Mark Caldwell: You know, if I was to bring this battle of the wits down to direct insults, I’d say you were one of the most cold-blooded, scheming women I’ve ever met in my life!
Sandra Marshall: You’ve already said that.
Mark Caldwell: May I make a suggestion?
Sandra Marshall: What?
Mark Caldwell: Next time you hear some odd noise in the night, just follow the memorable custom of your sex and stick your head under the bedclothes.
Mark Caldwell: I don’t know what plans you have in that devious feminine mind of yours, but if you’re trying to enlist Julie’s sympathy, don’t do it.
Sandra Marshall: And if i ignore your advice?
Mark Caldwell: I shall kick you out!
Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82.
Errol Flynn: Born Errol Flynn on June 20th, 1909 in Tasmania, Australia. Died: October 14th, 1959 in Vancouver, Canada. Aged 50.