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Cry in the Night, A (DVD Review)

22 Aug, 2016 By: Mike Clark

Available via Warner Archive
$21.99 DVD
Not rated
Stars Edmond O’Brien, Brian Donlevy, Natalie Wood, Raymond Burr.

The oddities begin at once in this “Jaguar” Production, as the unexpected yet unmistakable voiceover of Alan Ladd explains (in softer-sounding Jack Webb terms) why both teens and slightly older youths might choose to go parking in what here is called “Lovers’ Loop.” Jaguar was Ladd’s own company, and the actor starred in most of its releases — though not in this grimy black-and-white hybrid of a police procedural and twisted domestic drama where both plot-central families are having a dysfunctional time of it. This being the ’50s, Ladd’s narration keeps it clean, explaining that many young folk might need Loop visitations simply so they can “talk.” But the movie that actually materializes seems to be fully aware that the decade wasn’t always as portrayed on “Ozzie and Harriet,” with smiling Harriet over at the Beta house serving trays of colas to the frat brethren who’ve never heard of a Bar Mitzvah.

Still, some of the ad copy for A Cry in the Night was slightly more hysterical than what transpires on screen: “Liz Taggart wanted to be ‘hip’ — Don’t be a square … ‘make out’ every night … fly the hot rods … rock ‘n’ roll … joy it up!” In actuality, we see that Liz (Natalie Wood at 18) is totally ladylike in the Loop with her car salesman squeeze (Richard Anderson) — a guy who’s so straight that he’s in a coat, tie and V-necked sweater when he takes her to this passion pit to discuss … marriage. On a threat level, Anderson himself looks like some future recruit for the local Republican establishment’s “Henry Cabot Lodge for President” movement for the post-Ike years, which isn’t to say that matters won’t get lurid soon enough. Lurking in the Loop bushes is a creep played by Raymond Burr — and this would be (for all you chronologers) two years after Rear Window, about a year before the premiere of TV’s “Perry Mason” and the very same year Burr played the reporter shoehorned into the American release edit of Godzilla — the one who watches the mastication of Japan from a relatively safe perch.

Even when I was a kid in the summer between third and fourth grades when Night hit theaters, I thought it was a little weird when movie magazines briefly tried floating a real-life romance between Burr and Wood despite their huge age differential (though little did I know that she’d had a fling with a much senior Nick Ray during the filming a year earlier of Rebel Without a Cause). Burr’s real-life gayness, of course, was also off my youthful radar — though until someone can correct me, Night’s must rank as his most gay performance. Dominated by a mother just as Psycho’s Norman Bates would be before too long, Burr’s hard-to-forget loser is a cross between the Lenny character in Of Mice and Men and the equally pitiable “Poor Soul” that Jackie Gleason used to play on TV for Ralph Kramden contrast. After sucker-punching Anderson into a KO state, Burr abducts Wood into an abandoned plant that even has a small bed. For more ad copy, the Warner Archive DVD jacket art work screams: “Eighteen, nice girl, nice home — HOW DID SHE FALL THIS FAR? …” (That’s right, guys: blame Liz for being abducted.)

Even on an abductee level, she isn’t getting much of a deal, given that in William Wyler’s 1965 film of The Collector, Terrence Stamp bought his own love prisoner some coffee table art books and cosmetically dressed up the joint. In contrast, about the best Burr can come up with is to get rid of (and I’m not making this up) a dead dog that’s next to the bed. Apparently, no one taught this 32-year-old about social niceties — and especially not the seedy mother who treats him as if he were eight and who calls the cops when he’s been out too late instead of buying her snack-ish treats. As it turns out, Liz’s father is one of the precinct’s heavyweights (Edmond O’Brien), a Trump-ian loudmouth blamed for having turned his live-in sister into a spinster due to his rejection of her long-ago boyfriend. In the opinion of some, he’s in danger of doing the same thing (not with Natalie Wood in a form-fitting outfit, you won’t) to his daughter.

The rest is devoted to some case-cracking ankle work by O’Brien and work colleague Brian Donlevy (who, by the looks of it, must be getting close to retirement). There’s also some misplaced comedy relief involving a desk cop played by familiar-face Herb Vigran in exasperation mode — and, later, a female bigamist who’s apparently married to all branches of the military service outside of the WACS. Filmed on the cheap (which, in a way, helps the picture), Night was shot by Ladd’s favorite cinematographer, John Seitz, who followed the actor when he left Paramount for Warner Bros. in the ’50s. The director was Frank Tuttle of Ladd’s star-making This Gun for Hire and the then recent Hell on Frisco Bay (which I’d like to see Warner Archive bring out because it never seems to show up on TV). There’s something to be said for loyalty — probably more, objectively speaking, than for this picture. Yet there’s something about Night that gets a little under the skin the way that sleazy melodramas with name casts can sometimes do. Burr with Wood is even creepier than it sounds on paper.

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