This month is my turn to choose the ‘Four for Friday’ star and I’ve gone with the indomitable Barbara Stanwyck and one of my favourite films of hers, Cry Wolf (1947). If you’d like to read this month’s other ‘Four for Friday’ reviews, head over to the All Good Things Facebook page and check them out!
For some reason this lesser known film in Barbara Stanwyck’s repertoire really stands out for me. It’s a mystery film with airs of Film Noir, the haunted house film, murder mystery and the suspense thriller. I love a dark film and this one has darkness in spades!
Stanwyck plays Sandra Demarest, recently widowed after being secretly married for only a few months. After arriving her late husband’s former home, a huge foreboding estate worthy of a horror film, Sandra suddenly finds herself wrapped up in a whirlwind of suspicion and mystery when Mark Caldwell, uncle and trustee of her husband’s inheritance, refuses to let her see the body.
Mark is played by Errol Flynn who gives a wonderfully ice-cold performance of which I’m sure he very much enjoyed. He was apparently extremely fond of his role as Soames Forsyte in That Forsyte Woman (1949) where he was also able to break away from his all too familiar swashbuckling roles and get down to some much coveted dramatic acting. Before that film we see this other side of him in Cry Wolf and his talent is evident in both. In the latter, he is the perfect compliment to Barbara Stanwyck’s hard-boiled performance.
Stanwyck in this film is everything you would hope she could be. Famous for her steely determination and no-nonsense attitude, the actress gives it her all in Cry Wolf as her character throws herself into a fierce investigation of her husband’s suspicious death. The role was also quite a physically demanding one as she scales a rooftop, falls from a skylight and and hoists herself up several floors in a dumb waiter; not to mention those always impressive horse riding skills of hers!
She also looks fantastic! The film was produced at the height of 1940s fashion and her costumes were all designed by Edith Head who, from the early 1940s, designed most of the outfits for her films as well as her personal wardrobe. Edith Head revolutionised Barbara’s look as she disguised her long waist with wide belts and made her look taller. The outfits in this film are to die for. So chic yet so casual; the style that suited her best, in my opinion.
Also to be noted is Geraldine Brooks as Julie Demarest, Sandra’s sister-in-law being held captive in her own home by Mark. Her frustrated performance as she begs Sandra for help is fantastic and just as good as the two leads.
The film itself is intriguing to the last! It draws you in and keeps you in suspense and it achieves all this with some top notch acting, a solid screenplay and a wonderful visual design. The film is dark and shadowed like all great Film Noirs and in fact rarely shows the light of day at all! While I’m a huge fan of comedy and other lighthearted genres, I just revel in Film Noir and it’s deliciously stylistic form! There is something so thrilling about a nihilistic film. Human curiosity, I guess.
As a side note, Film Noir was also my favourite class (bar Classic Hollywood) at University in which I learned so much and my tutors were so nurturing and the best I ever had!
Cry Wolf was based on a 1945 novel, the movie rights of which were bought by Warner Brothers as a vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck. Denis Morgan was originally cast as Mark but Flynn was eventually chosen instead. The film received mixed reviews from critics, some found it wooden and clichéd while others found it thoroughly engaging and exciting, but the public was fixed on it’s success. The clichés, I believe, are often what makes Film Noir so entertaining. While of course the genre can surprise you, it’s formulaic screenplays and stylised dialogue is largely what the audience relishes! Granted this may be a “modern” way of looking at it as Film Noir was not a recognised or conscious genre at the time of it’s peak production.
In any case, I think the reason I love this film so much has to do with many of the filmic elements that I love all coming together in one film. With all it’s delectable Film Noir visuals, it’s intrigue and suspense, it’s wonderful performances and a thrilling musical score by my favourite film composer Franz Waxman, it also presents Barbara Stanywck in the era that I like her best, the 1940s.
Cry Wolf is a hidden treasure and one that I wholeheartedly recommend tracking down, especially for fans of Film Noir and the awesome Barbara Stanwyck!