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A Cry in the Night

Posted by martinteller on January 28, 2014

Liz Taggart (Natalie Wood) is necking up at Lover’s Loop with her boyfriend, car salesman Owen Clark (Richard Anderson).  They hear a noise and Owen goes to investigate.  He discovers a Peeping Tom, Harold Loftus (Raymond Burr) spying on them.  Harold clocks Owen with his lunchbox, knocking him out, and abducts Liz.  When Owen comes to, he’s taken to the drunk tank (another couple had poured booze over him, trying to wake him up).  Owen finally comes to his senses and recalls what happened.  He tells the story to Captain Ed Bates (Brian Donlevy), who has to give the bad news to Liz’s father: fellow Captain Dan Taggart (Edmond O’Brien).  While Harold keeps Liz captive in a decrepit brickyard, Bates, Taggart and Owen try to find them.

This has enough camp appeal to be a cult classic, if only it was a little more well-known.  O’Brien goes bananas with rage, lashing out at everyone around him… and ultimately having the revelation that his overprotective behavior has driven both his daughter and his sister (Mary Lawrence) away from him and into the arms of despair.  O’Brien is great at being pissed off, but his performance doesn’t even compare to Burr’s.  Burr is one of the masters of the creepy weirdo character, and delivers lines like “You’re so nice… nice and soft” in a way that would be easily quotable by an audience with a taste for ham.  Seemingly modeled after Lenny from Of Mice and Men, Harold is an off-kilter manchild, craving affection and ready to snap when he doesn’t get it.  While Burr’s performance vacillates between desperate thug and severely developmentally disabled, it’s so gloriously over-the-top that he’s riveting every second.

Which isn’t to say it’s a fantastic piece of work.  Frank Tuttle’s direction is adequate (maybe even better than his previous work on the more popular This Gun for Hire and Suspense) but in general the film feels routine.  Ditto for the cinematography, which only excites in a couple of scenes.  The score by David Buttolph (what a name!) is serviceable but forgettable.  There’s a completely irrelevant and out-of-place bit of comedy late in the film involving Tina Carver as a good-time gal who has married a number of servicemen.  The confrontation between Taggart and his sister is too easy and comes out of nowhere.  And Anderson — 30 at the time — looks way too old to be dating 18-year-old Wood.  Of course, that was Hollywood at the time… and perhaps appropriate in this case, with Wood just coming off an affair with the even older Nicholas Ray.  Not to mention she reportedly begged for the part because of her attraction to Burr.  Indeed, the two may have actually been involved behind-the-scenes, which gives their scenes together an intriguing twist.

The more I ponder this movie, the more inclined I am to overlook its flaws, or see them as part of the movie’s weird charm.  It’s definitely worth a look if you relish the idea of watching Burr and O’Brien make a meal of the scenery (there’s also an enjoyably goofy appearance by Carol Veizie as Burr’s overbearing mother.  Some of it is hokey (like the opening narration) but it hits some good spots.  Rating: Very Good (82)


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